Grappling with gains

UPN muscles up, other nets sing holiday blues

While the other broadcast nets performed like they were taking a Christmas break last week, wrestling-fortified UPN just kept bulking up.

Every net except UPN set lows of some historical significance during the Dec. 20-26 week, but the weblet virtually matched its season-to-date averages and topped results from every week of last season.

The rapidly rebounding UPN beat the Christmas-week blues mostly due to its ongoing focus on young male viewers — perhaps the audience least likely to be lured from the set by Christmas activities.

So despite mounting holiday distractions, Thursday’ “WWF Smackdown!” put a headlock on its biggest audience in seven weeks.

Even more impressively, Friday’s rerun of the “Piranha” vidpic beat UPN’s Friday-movie 18-49 average this season by 30% (1.3/5 vs. 1.0/3) despite airing on Christmas Eve, generally the lowest viewership night of the season.

ABC and NBC finished the week deadlocked in first among adults 18-49 (Daily Variety, Dec. 28). ABC padded its score with strong Monday football results while NBC got stuffed by record-low Saturday basketball ratings.

CBS won its fifth-straight week in households while managing its widest winning margin of the season, despite falling to its lowest in-season average since Super Bowl week 1998, nearly two years ago.

NBC and ABC followed with their second-lowest in-season homes averages ever, while Fox matched its lowest-rated in-season week since Jan. 16-22, 1989. The WB hit its lowest in-season homes rating since Dec. 30, 1996-Jan. 5, 1997.

Dec. 20-26 adults 18-49 averages were ABC, a 4.1 rating, 12 share (down in rating by 7% vs. last year) tied with NBC, 4.1/12 (up 14%); Fox, 3.4/10 (down 3%); CBS, 3.2/9 (down 6%); UPN, 1.6/5 (up 60%); WB, 1.1/3 (down 21%); Pax TV, 0.3/1 (up 50%).

Monday

Another strong Monday gridcast kept ABC atop the primetime standings Dec. 27. The Alphabet’s N.Y. Jets-Miami contest scored a 14.4 rating, 25 share, in homes and an 8.9 in adults 18-49, putting ABC 7 shares ahead of second-place CBS for the night in homes.

Sunday

Fox led the night in adults 18-49 and CBS prevailed in homes. Fox’s “Family Guy” subbed for “Futurama” and retained an OK 92% of the slot’s 18-49 lead-in from “The Simpsons.” “Futurama” has averaged an unimpressive 88% retention in the slot this season.

Disney pic “Wild America” bagged the week’s strongest kid numbers (5.6/21). The week’s top-scoring pic in adults 18-49 was NBC’s third run of “While You Were Sleeping,” which matched the 14 share in adults 18-49 of the film’s first broadcast in February 1998.

Viewers rebuffed ABC’s “Flirting With Disaster,” sending it to ABC’s lowest firstrun homes rating in the slot since August 1997.

The WB’s “Felicity” is starting to drag on Sundays. Last week’s rerun episode moped to that series’ lowest homes rating ever.

Saturday

CBS’ rerun regulars led Christmas night, as “Martial Law” and the soon-to-be-benched “Early Edition” rallied to season-high 18-49 results vs. atypical competition.

NBC’s New York-Indiana basketball came up flat, deflating to what’s apparently the lowest primetime NBA rating in broadcast net history.

Fox’s special animation lineup settled for that net’s lowest Saturday homes average since Jan. 18, 1997.

Friday

“It’s a Wonderful Life” brightened NBC’s Christmas Eve with an 18-49 victory. CBS led in homes despite its lowest Friday rating since Aug. 20. ABC and NBC settled for lowest-ever Friday homes averages, as the rate of homes using TV plunged from the week-earlier 55% to 41%. Each of ABC’s “T.G.I.F.” sitcoms equaled or fell below their previous lowest-ever household ratings.

Both weblets programmed the night well, beating their seasonlong adults 18-49 averages.

Thursday

Despite mounting holiday distractions, ABC was an impressive second for the night with a surprisingly strong “America’s Funniest Home Videos” spec and the biggest audience yet (11.97 million) for “20/20 Downtown.”

UPN’s wrestling pinned the week’s highest rating among teens (a 7.1, a muscular 42% better than the No. 2 show on that list, Sunday’s “Family Guy” on Fox) and was No. 4 among kids 6-11.

Wednesday

The first of primetime’s many millennium specials clicked, earning the top National Geographic rating since May 1996 (Daily Variety, Dec. 27). ABC, WB and UPN hit season-low Wednesday homes averages while Fox’s “Beverly Hills, 90210” slipped to its lowest firstrun households rating since Jan. 3, 1991.

Tuesday

At 8:30, ABC’s “Oh Grow Up” behaved poorly without Fox’s struggling “Ally” as slot competition. Facing a solid holiday film in “Ally’s” place, “Oh” retained just 83% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Spin City” vs. a 100% average when airing against “Ally.”

Monday

ABC collected its third-best “Monday Night Football” 18-49 stats of the season with a strong Green Bay-Minnesota matchup Dec. 20.

CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond” was the week’s top-rated comedy in households. “Ally McBeal” equaled its lowest firstrun homes rating since February 1998, due mostly to a weakest-yet lead-in from “Time of Your Life.” A rerun of the WB’s “7th Heaven” beat Fox’s firstrun “Time” in households.

Each household rating point represents an estimated 1 million homes, or 1% of the country’s TV households. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.24 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. The share is also a percentage, but measured against only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.

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