N.Y. entry helps baseball, NBC; 'Amy' up

It looks like baseball has discovered the key to higher ratings … and it’s the Mets.

With New York’s team in the National League Championship Series for the first time in 11 years, NBC opened the semifinal round of the playoffs Tuesday by outslugging 13 of last year’s 14 pre-World Series primetime playoff telecasts.

Versus last year’s comparable game, Tuesday’s 4-2 victory by the Atlanta Braves over the Mets scored a 17% gain in households.

Among Tuesday entertainment alternatives, meanwhile, the star of the Nielsen night was CBS’ “Judging Amy” (with 16.46 million viewers and a 5.2 rating, 14 share in adults 18-49). “Amy” is the only rookie on the fall schedule to improve on its regular-slot homes rating in each of its first three chances.

ABC’s slot-rival drama “Once and Again” (11.51 million, 5.8/16 in adults 18-49) still has the edge in adults 18-49, but the advantage slipped to 2 shares Tuesday, down from last week’s 5 and premiere week’s 10.

CBS hits target

The night also saw “Amy” win that 10-11 p.m. hour for the first time in CBS’ target demo of adults 25-54.

In other Tuesday developments, UPN got a satisfactory start from “The Strip,” and the WB held its demo ground in second tries for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”

Tuesday’s baseball stats (14.50 million, 5.2/15 in adults 18-49) were up impressively vs. last year. The increase probably reflects the presence of the Mets, who rep the country’s largest market and have generated national attention by roaring back after a late-season slump. It doesn’t hurt that their opponents are the Braves, who have developed a heated rivalry with the Mets this year.

Last year’s first telecast of the league-championship round was an American League Cleveland-N.Y. Yankees matchup, which bunted a 9.2/16 in homes, well short of Tuesday’s Braves-Mets 10.8/18. Last year’s N.L. series, between Atlanta and the San Diego Padres, never topped a 9.5/16 in primetime. Two years ago, Atlanta and the Florida Marlins never beat Tuesday’s 10.8/18 until their series reached game six (13.0/22).

Needs to be close

Still, continued Nielsen success for the Mets-Braves series (as well as Fox’s strong Boston-N.Y. Yankees A.L. pairing) depends on close competition that produces a six- or seven-game series. Another Mets loss or two to the favored Braves could quickly douse national interest.

The last time the Mets made the N.L. championship — in 1988 vs. the L.A. Dodgers — ratings for baseball (and all network fare) were a lot higher. Game one of that matchup earned a 16.4/27 in homes, way up from this year’s 10.8/19.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, UPN’s debut of “The Strip” (3.46 million, 1.2/3) looked OK, up a tenth in adults 18-49 over the year-ago premiere in that slot of “Mercy Point.”

The second try for the WB’s “Buffy”/”Angel” combo lost a lot of viewers overall (from last week’s 7.13 million down to 5.73 million), due in part to the loss of the netlet’s clearance on Chicago superstation WGN, but the WB’s Tuesday pair actually gained in women 18-34 (with a 3.9 rating vs. a 3.8).

“Angel” (5.82 million, 2.7/7 in adults 18-49) matched year-ago “Felicity” results in that slot among women 18-34 (3.6/9 vs. 3.6/10) but was up 67% in men 18-34 (2.5/8 vs. 1.5/5).

”70s’ success

Fox’s surprise Tuesday star continues to be “That ’70s Show” (10.46 million, 5.7/16 in adults 18-49), which streaked 43% ahead of its skinny 18-49 lead-in from “Ally” (7.58 million, 4.0/12 in adults 18-49).

At 9 p.m., “Party of Five” (8.37 million, 4.6/12 in adults 18-49) is making some Tuesday strides, improving on last season’s slot average in adults 18-34 by 40% (6.6/18 vs. 4.7/14), but that’s still down about 20% vs. “Party’s” Wednesday results last fall.

Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.24 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it’s measured against only viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.

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