Lead over NBC expected to widen

It looks like the November-sweeps crown has already been locked away in ABC’s vault thanks to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the hit gameshow that’s helped boost 10 of 18 ABC series to season-high numbers this month.

Plenty could still go wrong for ABC before the end of the sweeps, but assuming “Millionaire” maintains its appeal through its final scheduled November telecast on Wednesday and that a glut of Thanksgiving-weekend specials don’t substantially favor one net over another, ABC appears assured of its first major sweeps triumph since November 1994.

Through 17 nights of the four-week sweeps month, ABC is leading runner-up NBC by a 0.7 ratings-point margin in homes (with a projected 10.0 rating vs. a 9.3, based on Friday-Saturday prelims) and by half-a-point in adults 18-49 (6.0 vs. 5.5).

Those margins will probably be bigger through three full weeks, when “Millionaire’s” 18-night run finally concludes, giving NBC just a week to overcome solid leads built up by ABC before sweeps conclude.

ABC hasn’t won a sweeps in adults 18-49 since November 1994 and in households since May 1994.

The Alphabet has apparently also scored a Nov. 15-21 weeklong victory, after “Millionaire’s” influence brought the Alphabet victories on five of the week’s first six nights.

The gameshow’s Friday adults 18-49 total climbed 15% vs. the previous Friday, as “Millionaire” gained vs. the previous week on every night last week from Monday through Saturday.

Friday night’s million-dollar win, the first in the history of “Millionaire” (which originated in the U.K. and has aired in several other countries), was achieved by 31-year-old John Carpenter, an employee of the IRS. Carpenter benefited from a relatively easy series of questions and a less-than-daunting million-dollar query in which he was asked to name the U.S. president who appeared on the TV series “Laugh-In” (Richard Nixon).

Though Carpenter was born the year of Nixon’s “Laugh-In” appearance, he answered with such certainty that he ended up on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend in a sketch mocking his extreme confidence.

Carpenter’s haul is believed to be TV’s biggest non-lottery payoff ever awarded at one time to a single contestant.

Last week’s “Millionaire” episodes were consistently topping week-earlier figures, but those gains shrunk to a relatively modest 5% in adults 18-49 by Thursday, the smallest increase of the week. Then Friday’s events seemed to reinvigorate the show, helping the Saturday seg improve by 9% vs. week-earlier 18-49 stats.

Tops ‘Frasier’ again

Thursday was still a breakthrough night, as “Millionaire” tallied nearly 26 million viewers, its second-highest total ever. Thursday’s seg also once again outscored NBC’s “Frasier” (18.94 million viewers and a 9.3 rating, 23 share, in adults 18-49) in the 18-49 demo from 9-9:30 p.m.

“Millionaire” is the only ABC series to beat a firstrun NBC comedy among adults 18-49 in that Thursday 9-9:30 half-hour since Feb. 24, 1983 (“Too Close for Comfort” over “Gimme a Break”).

“Millionaire’s” total-viewer counts Thursday, Friday and Saturday were 25.91 million, 21.76 million and 20.22 million, respectively, with adults 18-49 averages of 9.2/23, 6.9/21 and 6.3/19. Friday and Saturday falloffs were expected, due to lower TV usage on those nights, and would probably have been steeper if not for Friday’s payoff.

Friday-Saturday Nielsens are preliminary.

ABC is headed toward almost certain victory in the sweeps thanks to “Millionaire” momentum, which has helped 10 of 18 ABC series hit season-high numbers this month. The Nov. 15-21 week will apparently also fall to the Alphabet after “Millionaire’s” influence brought ABC victories on five of the week’s first six nights.

‘Greed’ not so good

Fox failed to share in the “Millionaire” wealth with its Thursday knockoff “Greed” (9.67 million, 4.3/11 in adults 18-49 from 9-10 p.m.), which declined 12% vs. previous-week 18-49 averages. “Greed” did improve in men 18-34 by 21% (5.8/17 vs. 4.8/12) and is still clearly recruiting lots of “Millionaire” viewers when that rival gamer wraps at 9:30. Last Thursday, “Greed” added 4.36 million viewers in the 9:30-10 p.m. hour.

Fox did better on Friday, topping the leader board in adults 18-34 and key male demos as a rerun of “Happy Gilmore” (a prelim 9.53 million, 4.4/14 in adults 18-49) shot a 5.2/18 in adults 18-34, Fox’s best Friday score since Oct. 25, 1996.

ABC dominated Saturday as “Millionaire” boosted the 9-11 p.m. movie, “One Fine Day” (a prelim 13.01 million, 5.1/15 in adults 18-49), to ABC’s best non-”Miss America” homes rating (9.1) in the slot since a Jan. 4, 1998 skatecast.

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