Alphabet scores best win since Super Bowl

ABC built on its tremendous midseason momentum last week, cruising to its 10th consecutive ratings victory among total viewers and households behind five episodes of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The streak, which coincides with the gameshow’s mid-January launch as a thrice-weekly series, doesn’t figure to end anytime soon, either.

For the week of Feb. 28-March 5, which included the final three days of the February sweeps, it wasn’t even close. In fact, the Alphabet web’s margin of victory over second-place CBS — 2.4 rating points in households and 4.5 million in total viewers — was its largest of the season (excepting Super Bowl week).

Strong against reruns

ABC was also an easy winner in key demos, according to Nielsen, thanks to the two additional “Millionaire” episodes and the end of sweeps resulting in rerun-heavy lineups on second-place NBC’s strong Thursday and Friday lineups. ABC topped NBC by 1.6 rating points in adults 18-49 — also its largest margin of the season (excepting Super Bowl week).

“Millionaire” installments ranked Nos. 1 through 5 for the week in both total viewers and adults 18-49, with Wednesday’s episode (31.98 million viewers, 10.3/28 in adults 18-49) topping both lists and ranking as the fourth most-watched episode yet.

The gamer figures to cast an even larger shadow over the TV landscape in the upcoming weeks as the months of March and April will be full of reruns on all the nets, and ABC has indicated no plans to rest “Millionaire.”

In fact, ABC has a very good chance to continue the streak through the end of the season, although the May sweeps could offer some stiff tests.

Challenge upcoming

Its next biggest challenge figures to come from CBS during the week ending April 9, when the Eye web offers up a schedule that includes the NCAA basketball championship, the first few nights of the heavily promoted midseason series “Falcone” and a live version of the movie “Fail Safe.”

ABC last took 10 consecutive weeks in the 1994-95 season, when it went on to win 12 straight. Its longest streak ever came during the 1978-79 season, when it won 14 weeks in a row.

Elsewhere, UPN continued its own momentum last week, topping rival netlet the WB for the 10th time in the last 11 weeks in total viewers. UPN also had a strong February, with its best sweeps ratings in both adults 18-34 and 18-49 since November 1997 and its best among teens in its five-year history.

The netlet’s first try with a monster-truck special ran into a ratings wall, however, as the Tuesday special drew just 2.42 million viewers. UPN had expressed interest in turning the special into a possible series if successful — just as it did last spring with wrestling after a spec during May sweeps did boffo numbers.

As reruns returned to the Big 4 nets’ skeds on Thursday following sweeps, three programs airing post-sweep originals (ABC’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” NBC’s “Dateline” and CBS’ “Early Edition”) drew their largest audiences of the season.

Also, NBC’s “The Tenth Kingdom” mini came to a close on Monday of this week, with the five-parter averaging a 4.7 rating in adults 18-49 — well behind the results for recent Robert Halmi minis for the net including “Noah’s Ark” and “The Odyssey,” which each averaged a 12.4.

For the week of Feb. 28-March 5, adults 18-49 standings were: ABC, a 6.2/17 (up 3% vs. a year ago); NBC, 4.6/13 (down 13%); Fox, 4.1/11 (down 20%); CBS, 3.5/10 (down 10%); UPN, 1.5/4 (up 25%); the WB, 1.3/4 (down 28%); Pax, 0.3/1 (even).

In households, it was: ABC, 10.9/18 (up 8%); CBS, 8.5/14 (down 6%); NBC, 7.5/12 (down 13%); Fox, 5.9/9 (down 12%); UPN, 2.6/4 (up 18%); the WB, 2.5/4 (down 24%); and Pax, 0.7/1 (down 12%).

National primetime adults 18-49 averages for the top cable services were: HBO, 1.3/4 (even); USA, 1.0/3 (down 9%); TBS, 0.8/2 (down 11%), tied with TNT, 0.8/2 (even); Lifetime, 0.7/2 (up 40%).

Monday

CBS won in homes and total viewers on March 6, although viewers are failing to get wrapped up in the net’s midseason comedy “Grapevine” (10.81 million, 3.9/10), which retained just 78% of its adults 18-49 lead-in from “King of Queens.”

At 10 p.m., ABC’s “Once and Again” (12.46 million, 6.1/16 in A18-49), airing for the first time in three weeks, easily won the battle of rookie dramas among adults 18-49, topping the Eye web’s “Family Law” by 65%. It was the best score in five Monday outings for “Once,” which began the season on Tuesdays.

Sunday

The second annual “TV Guide Awards” (5.3/8 in homes, 3.5/8 in A18-49) slipped by 35% in homes and 31% in adults 18-49 compared with its bow last season on a Monday. The kudocast dropped noticeably in its second hour against ABC’s “Millionaire” (28.67 million, 9.9/22 in adults 18-49).

“Wonderful World of Disney” original “Life-Size” (13.5 million, 4.3/12), starring Tyra Banks, tied CBS for the adults 18-49 lead from 7-9 p.m.

CBS took the night in households, while ABC won among total viewers and topped second-place CBS by 5 shares in adults 18-49.

Saturday

CBS won in total viewers for the third straight week behind the best homes score for “Early Edition” (7.3/14 in homes, 3.1/11 in adults 18-49) since Feb. 20, 1999.

A repeat airing of “Waterworld” (8.88 million, 3.8/12 in adults 18-49) lifted ABC to a first-place tie in adults 18-49 with Fox. The Alphabet has placed first on seven of the last 10 Saturdays.

Friday

Even with its Friday dramas in repeat, NBC won the night by 3 shares in households and edged out Fox in adults 18-49. “Dateline” (14.8 million, 4.5/14 in A18-49) was the night’s top-rated show among adults 18-49 with its most-watched episode since last April.

ABC’s “TGIF” schedule continues to struggle as “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” (prelim 10.5 million, 3.2/10 in adults 18-49) matched its season low among young adults. At 9:30, though, “The Hughleys” retained 97% of its adults 18-49 lead-in.

CBS’ Bill Cosby-topped series are also struggling, as an original “Kids Say the Darndest Things” placed second in total viewers but a distant fourth in adults 18-49. And at 8:30, “Cosby,” airing for the first time in six weeks, retained just 80% of its adults 18-49 lead-in and finished 9 shares off the demo lead despite facing all-repeat competition on the other Big 4 nets.

Thursday

ABC took advantage of NBC’s resting its big three Thursday shows to win in total viewers and place a strong second to the Peacock in young adults.

An hour of “Whose Line Is It Anyway” (an original followed by a repeat) averaged 13.55 million viewers and 6.1/17 in adults 18-49 — the improv show’s best Nielsens since Jan. 6, 1999 and ABC’s best delivery in the hour with regular entertainment programming since Jan. 14, 1993 (“Matlock”).

Wednesday

“Millionaire” (31.98 million, 10.3/28 in adults 18-49) ended its mini marathon (nine of 11 nights to close out sweeps) by drawing its largest audience since Jan. 25.

NBC’s “Law & Order” (18.32 million, 7.1/19 in adults 18-49) finished a strong sweep by winning its hour by 6 shares in young adults. For the sweep, “Law” was up 22% over its adults 18-49 average of February 1999, with its highest February ratings in the demo in the show’s 10-year history.

Tuesday

“Millionaire” (31.02 million, 10.0/27 in adults 18-49) delivered its second-largest Tuesday audience yet, lifting the Alphabet web to a 4-share victory over NBC in adults 18-49.

Opposite “Sports Night” on ABC, NBC’s “Just Shoot Me” (13.55 million, 7.5/18) was right on target in its new timeslot, winning its half-hour by 5 shares in young adults.

A special episode of Fox’s “Greed” (10.52 million, 4.1/10) looked solid in the 9 p.m. hour, improving on the adults 18-49 lead-in of “TV Guide Sitcom Scandals” by 24%.

And at 10 p.m., CBS’ “Judging Amy” (11.2/18 in homes, 4.5/12 in adults 18-49) notched its best homes rating since December and for the first time matched “NYPD Blue” in women 25-54 (8.1/19). “Blue,” though, did win in adults 18-49 by 5 shares over “Dateline” and by 6 shares over “Amy.”

Monday

A special “Millionaire” (28.45 million, 9.3/24 in adults 18-49) drew its biggest Monday ratings ever on Feb. 28, teaming with the conclusion of “The Beach Boys” mini to give ABC the night in adults 18-49 and total viewers (Daily Variety, March 1).

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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