‘Millionaire’ helps ABC cash Nielsens

Tarses' exit doesn't tarnish summer skein's success

Even as ABC seemed to be coming apart at the seams at the senior exec level last week, the sleeper success of the web’s summer quiz show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” is expected to drive the Alphabet to its first weekly Nielsen households win since the week of the Oscars last March.

“Millionaire” retired for the summer as of Sunday, but not before amassing a Nielsen fortune that demonstrates just how effectively a good original summer offering can shake the webs out of their rerun-induced summer doldrums. And “Millionaire’s” night-by-night success was a big morale boost for the Alphabet, which grappled with staff layoffs last week and the highly publicized departure of embattled entertainment prexy Jamie Tarses.

For ABC, the icing on the “Millionaire” cake was its low cost, relative to producing an original scripted series, and the flexibility it promises to give ABC in plugging trouble spots on its primetime sked as the 1999-2000 season commences next month.

“Millionaire” concluded its 13-night August run with its best numbers yet, a 13.9 rating, 22 share in households and an 8.5 rating in adults 18-49, according to preliminary Nielsen nationals for Sunday night.

Those results are rich enough to put ABC first in Aug. 23-29 primetime averages, and possibly provide the net’s biggest margin of victory in adults 18-49 since the week of the Super Bowl in 1995.

Final Aug. 23-29 results are due out from Nielsen today, but based on prelim weekend results, an ABC win looks certain, with the Alphabet headed to about a 0.7-rating-point margin of victory in both households and adults 18-49. Sunday’s “Millionaire” will be the week’s top-rated show for the second time in a row.

With “Millionaire” the surprise hit of the summer, ABC now is expected to bring the Regis Philbin-hosted gamer back for the November sweeps, though the number of episodes and its skedding pattern remain unannounced. Philbin announced the November return during Sunday night’s show.

It’s the second summer in a row ABC has strengthened its schedule by experimenting with alternative firstrun fare. Last year, the Alphabet clicked with the improv/gamer “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” which, like “Millionaire,” is an adaptation of a successful British series.

Top numbers

In its 13 tries this August, “Millionaire” won its slot and topped its lead-in all 13 times. This past week, all six “Millionaire” segs improved over previous-week results.

Sunday’s “Millionaire” summer finale won its slot by a commanding 9 shares in homes, as did the Friday installment (10.1/20 in homes).

Saturday’s seg (a prelim 7.3/15) led its half-hour by 5 shares.

One “Millionaire” contestant pocketed $500,000, which is the most ever awarded on the show in any of the five countries in which it airs. It was also the biggest one-time cash prize in U.S. TV history (excluding lotteries).

Each household rating point represents an estimated 994,000 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. 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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