Photo finish for Eye, Peacock in ratings

But CBS wins sweeps

After laying low during the Olympics, NBC has taken back the primetime Nielsens lead in Feb. 23-March 1 results, but the highest Grammy rating in five years has kept CBS close in households and ahead by an Eye lash in total viewers.

“The Closer” actually trailed CBS’ 25-54 rating in that slot on the year-ago Monday (when “Cybill” faced lighter competition) by 26%.

CBS enjoyed some modest post-Olympics momentum last week — the Grammys were a hit, “Candid Camera” clicked and “The Closer” opened solidly, but “Four Corners” fell to foreboding depths on Tuesday, and this week’s second episode of “The Closer” declined by 13% to a 9.5 rating, 14 share, suggesting an ordinary future for the highly promoted rookie.

Even so, CBS will easily win the February sweeps when final results are released Thursday. NBC now appears likely to hold onto second in adults 18-49 over Fox (though Fox is still ahead counting only the 15 “common time” hours of the Fox schedule).

It may be time to count out WB’s “Three” (2.1/3), which held just 43% of its lead-in from “7th Heaven” (a series record 4.9/8). “Heaven” doubled its rating from the year-ago Monday and was the night’s top-rated show in teens and kids.

The households race for third between ABC and Fox also continues to be close, with Fox currently ahead, but ABC still the favorite to prevail. A third-place households finish would be the highest ever for Fox in a major sweep.

With two nights left to count, the February sweeps household standings are CBS, a 14.3 rating, 23 share (up in rating by 46% vs. results for the same period last year); NBC, 9.5/15 (down 18%); Fox, 7.9/12 (even); ABC, 7.8/13 (down 18%). Adults 18-49 standings are: CBS, 7.4/19 (up 72%); NBC, 6.0/15 (down 23%); Fox, 5.8/15 (down 2%); ABC, 4.6/12 (down 16%).

NBC’s Feb. 23-March 1 victory was keyed by the return of firstrun Thursday programming and welcome boosts from Friday’s “Soap Opera Awards” and the films “Braveheart” and “While You Were Sleeping.”

Last week’s adults 18-49 averages were NBC, 6.8/18 (up 3% vs. results for the same week last year); Fox, 5.8/15 (up 4%); ABC, 4.9/13 (down 2%); CBS, 4.8/13 (down 8%); WB, 1.6/4 (up 33%); UPN, 1.5/4 (down 12%). Fox has run second in this key demo for four weeks in a row.

CBS held onto second for the week in its target demo, adults 25-54, and nipped NBC for first in total viewers, 15.6 million to 15.5 million.

Monday

On Monday, March 2, the second try for CBS’ “The Closer” declined to fourth for its half-hour in homes and adults 18-49. Though up substantially from slot-predecessor programming and still facing tough sweeps competition, the Tom Selleck sitcom is no longer showing the promise of turning around a tough night for CBS. The Eye finished Monday of this week fourth in homes and most important demos.

Fox dominated the night in adults 18-49 with a record “Ally McBeal” (10.3 rating, 15 share in homes, an 8.1 rating in adults 18-49).

“Ally” bullied even NBC’s “Braveheart, Part 2” (10.3/16 in homes, 6.8 in adults 18-49) for their head-to-head hour.

“Braveheart” won Monday in homes for NBC and wrapped its two-night run with a respectable 11.1/18 average. That makes “Braveheart” the fifth-highest-rated theatrical pic to air on the nets this season, behind “The Fugitive” (11.9/18), “Christmas Vacation” (11.7/18), “Something to Talk About” (11.3/18) and “I Love Trouble” (11.2/19).

It may be time to count out WB’s “Three” (2.1/3), which held just 43% of its lead-in from “7th Heaven” (4.9/8).

Sunday

Despite big films on each of the Big Three, Fox won Sunday in adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54. CBS swept the night in households, led by “The Long Way Home,” its top-rated Sunday pic in 11 weeks.

NBC’s “Braveheart, Part 1” and ABC’s “Pocahontas” settled for fairly ordinary numbers. “Braveheart” was topped by “X-Files” in homes and adults 18-49, while “Pocahontas” finished 40% behind the November 1996 broadcast debut of “The Lion King.” On the plus side, “Braveheart” tied NBC’s top Sunday-pic rating of the season, and “Pocahontas” earned last week’s top rating among kid viewers.

In the battle of the Sunday blunder-fests, Fox’s “World’s Funniest!” edged NBC’s “Bloopers,” despite being held to its lowest firstrun rating since Dec. 21.

“Dateline NBC,” airing at 8 p.m., reported its second-best Sunday rating since Jan. 12, 1997.

Saturday

Fox swept its four Saturday half-hours in adults 18-49, while NBC’s skating edged CBS for the gold in homes.

In its first try at 9 p.m., CBS’ “The Magnificent Seven” fell 12% short of “Early Edition’s” slot average there, but “Seven” faced tough skating competition. “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” returned to the schedule with a 9% improvement over its earlier season 18-49 average.

In a rerun six nights after its first airing, “Casper” scared up ABC’s second-best 18-49 rating in that slot in seven weeks.

Friday

“The Soap Opera Awards” handed NBC a nightlong win in homes, adults 18-49 and all key female demos. The kudocast slipped 2% from its year-ago household tally, but was up an impressive 15% in adults 18-49.

CBS sharpened the focus of its Friday lineup with the series debut of “Candid Camera,” which built on its 25-54 lead-in from “Kids Say the Darndest Things” by 3% ,and improved on CBS’ regular-programming slot average by 38% in that demo.

That “Camera” boost made no difference to the stumbling “Gregory Hines” and “Step by Step,” which lost, respectively, 43% and 22% of their 25-54 lead-ins. In homes, it was the lowest firstrun rating to date for “Hines,” which has probably run out of chances on the CBS sked.

It was actually the lowest-rated firstrun “Candid Camera” since a June 1992 special, down 12% from the average of “Camera’s” last five firstrun specials.

Thursday

“Just Shoot Me” joined NBC’s killer Thursday sked, with a 91% retention of its 18-49 lead-in from “Friends.” That’s a few degrees cooler than “Shoot’s” hot 99% figure with a Jan. 29 tryout in the slot, but still well above slot predecessor “Union Square’s” 81% average.

“Seinfeld” slipped to the lowest firstrun rating in its last five tries.

ABC’s three-hour vidpic “Virtual Obsession” downloaded what’s apparently the Alphabet’s lowest in-season Thursday rating ever.

Wednesday

CBS topped the Wednesday charts with the Grammys, the highest-rated non-Oscar awards telecast in five years (Daily Variety, Feb. 27).

It was also CBS’ top-rated Wednesday with entertainment programming since the ’93 Grammys. The Grammys topped their year-ago 25-54 score by 43% and CBS’ season-to-date Wednesday average in that demo by 159%.

Against that competition, ABC slipped to what’s apparently its lowest-rated Wednesday with regular firstrun programming.

UPN didn’t mind the Grammy competition, climbing to its best nightlong rating for any night of the week in 10 weeks and first nightlong households win over WB in that same span.

Tuesday

“Four Corners” joined the Tuesday schedule virtually dead on arrival, landing 17% below CBS’ tepid 25-54 slot average for regular programming, despite a big buildup during the Winter Olympics.

“Home Improvement” won the night for ABC, beating NBC’s “Mad About You” by 3 shares in adults 18-49 (20 vs. 17) and “Frasier” by 6 shares (26 vs. 20). “Soul Man” added its top 18-49 rating since Nov. 18, helping ABC to its best Tuesday score in 15 weeks.

The possibly tiring “Mad About You” settled for its lowest firstrun rating of the season.

WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” kept flowing, beating “Four Corners” in adults 18-49 and more than doubling the CBS newcomer in adults 18-34.

Fox’s “Daredevils” spec leaped 39% over the net’s Tuesday 18-49 average.

Monday

Feb. 23 results were dominated by ABC’s “The Wedding, Part 2,” but “Ally McBeal” led Fox to a nightlong tie in adults 18-49 (Daily Variety, Feb. 25).

CBS’ premiere of “The Closer” improved on the Eye’s 18-49 slot average by 46%, but was fourth for the half-hour in that demo.

UPN faded to its lowest-rated firstrun Monday ever.

Each household rating point represents an estimated 980,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.23 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it measures only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.

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