ABC’s ‘Millionaire’ scores again

Alphabet wins Nielsen ratings for the week

Seven nights of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” have bequeathed ABC its largest weeklong average audience in four years, while leaving many telecasts on rival networks Nielsen paupers.

Among those hit hardest last week was the WB, which continues to struggle through a difficult winter. In part due to “Millionaire” competition, the Frog was hobbled last week with lowest-yet firstrun household ratings from “Dawson’s Creek,” “Charmed,” “Popular,” “Felicity” and “Jack & Jill.”

“Millionaire” put a big scare into most of its competition last week, invoking the ghosts of “Too Close for Comfort,” “The Fall Guy” and “T.J. Hooker” by achieving ABC’s best results with entertainment fare in certain slots dating back to the early-to-mid-1980s heyday of those long-gone Alphabet series.

On Monday of this week, meanwhile, ABC’s “American Music Awards” inched ahead of last year’s worst-ever figures to win the night by 3 shares over Fox in adults 18-49.

In the shadow of “Millionaire,” the most successful mid-season schedule changes are coming so far at Fox (with the Sunday hit “Malcolm in the Middle” and Friday addition “World’s Wildest Police Videos”) and NBC (with the Monday transferee “Third Watch” and Friday newcomer “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”).

CBS has failed to impress so far with “Cosby” on Fridays and a Sunday preview of “City of Angels,” while Saturday gameshow “Winning Lines” looked like a loser vs. special “Millionaire” competition.

“Millionaire” also punished Fox’s “Greed,” while week-two numbers for NBC gamer “Twenty-One” failed to add up even without direct “Millionaire” competition.

Elsewhere on NBC’s schedule, the Peacock is getting minor slot progress at best from Monday’s “Freaks and Geeks” and the re-skedded “Dateline” and Tuesday’s “Veronica’s Closet.”

Last week’s adults 18-49 averages were: ABC, a 6.5 rating, 17 share (up in rating by 41% vs. year-ago results); NBC, 5.0/13 (down 9%); Fox, 4.8/12 (down 9%); CBS, 4.2/11 (down 7%); UPN, 1.6/4 (up 45%); WB, 1.3/3 (down 35%); Pax TV, 0.3/3.

ABC’s 6.5 matches its highest weeklong average since the “Cinderella” Disney pic boosted the Alphabet in November 1997. The net’s total-viewer average, 17.60 million, is its highest since the week of “The Beatles Anthology,” Nov. 20-26, 1995.

In teens, the fading WB has slipped behind new leader ABC in season-to-date totals (810,000 viewers vs. 800,000). ABC last won a season in teens back in 1994-95.

Monday

ABC’s “American Music Awards” was honored with these first-place Jan. 17 Nielsens: 16.68 million viewers and a 7.2 rating, 17 share in adults 18-49. In the 18-49 category, “AMA” inched 4% ahead of its worst-ever year-earlier rating.

NBC’s revamped Monday lineup is still trying to get some traction, this week sliding to the Peacock’s lowest Monday homes rating ever (6.7) with regular firstrun fare.

At 8 p.m., “Freaks and Geeks” (7.55 million viewers, 3.3/8 in adults 18-49) roughly matched its below-average grades from the previous week’s first Monday try, while “Dateline” (9.41 million, 3.2/7 in adults 18-49) continues to trend downward in the 9 p.m. hour. At 10 p.m., “Third Watch” (12.14 million, 5.0/13 in adults 18-49) declined a bit vs. last week, but still looks like a competitive player in that slot.

The combo of “Watch” and “AMA” took a toll on CBS’ “Family Law” (12.36 million, 3.8/10 in adults 18-49), which equaled its lowest firstrun 18-49 rating to date.

Sunday

The big news on Sunday is Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle,” which has nearly doubled the net’s season-to-date adults 18-49 average in that slot (11.4/25 vs. 5.8/13). “Malcolm’s” arrival seems to have energized the rest of that comedy lineup, with “King of the Hill” and “The Simpsons” both hitting their most animated 18-49 numbers this season.

With another huge football lead-in running interference, CBS won the night in homes and scored its highest Sunday 18-49 rating in a year.

Saturday

“Millionaire” cashed in ABC’s highest Saturday 8-9 p.m. homes rating with entertainment fare in nearly 15 years, since April 20, 1985 (“T.J. Hooker”).

But when ABC follows “Millionaire” with a weak attraction, such as Saturday’s skating, extra viewers are freed up for the competition. That skatecast slipped nearly 15 million viewers below its “Millionaire” lead-in, allowing CBS’ “Martial Law” and “Walker, Texas Ranger” to kick up their highest 18-49 marks since last February. Skating still topped its year-ago households average by 29%.

Despite ABC’s “Millionaire” windfall, a season’s-best “America’s Most Wanted” captured the night for Fox in adults 18-49.

Friday

Another night, another milestone for “Millionaire,” which deposited ABC’s best Friday 9-10 p.m. homes rating with entertainment fare since a Dolly Parton spec on Dec. 21, 1990.

ABC’s “Millionaire” momentum didn’t hurt NBC’s strong Friday newcomer “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” in demos. In adults 18-49, “SVU” improved by 2% vs. the previous week despite a “20/20” rally to season-best Friday results

At 8:30, CBS’ first Friday try with “Cosby” held a disappointing 81% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” the Eye’s second-lowest retention in that slot this season.

Fox’s “World’s Wildest Police Videos” won the 8-9 p.m. hour in adults 18-49 with authority, leading by 3 shares.

Thursday

“Millionaire” bequeathed ABC its best Thursday 9-10 p.m. 18-49 rating with regular fare since Oct. 14, 1982 (“Too Close for Comfort” and “It Takes Two”). Each of “Millionaire’s” ABC schedule mates also rallied to season-high 18-49 results.

“Millionaire” injured “Chicago Hope,” which suffered its lowest firstrun homes rating ever, but “WWF Smackdown” didn’t mind the competition, putting a headlock on its best total-viewer count to date.

Wednesday

Record “Millionaire” numbers clobbered the 8-9 p.m. competition (Daily Variety, Jan. 14), though UPN’s “7 Days” still matched its best adults 18-34 rating of the season. It was ABC’s largest non-sports audience that hour since Feb. 29, 1984 (“The Fall Guy”).

At 9 p.m., CBS recovered for its second-best Wednesday-pic households rating to date. NBC’s “West Wing” also rose to its highest standing in the 18-49 polls since Oct. 6.

Tuesday

The arrival of “Millionaire” and “NYPD Blue” has locked up Tuesdays once again for ABC (Daily Variety, Jan. 13), but the competition generally held up last week. CBS’ “60 Minutes II” ticked off its second-highest homes rating ever.

Monday

Free of NBC comedy competition, CBS’ lineup won the night in homes and matched its best regular-fare Monday 18-49 rating since Feb. 10, 1997. The WB’s “7th Heaven” sagged to its lowest in-season Monday homes rating since May 1998.

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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