Michael J. Fox’s farewell on “Spin City” delivered huge ratings for ABC on Wednesday. But the potential for spinning didn’t stop there.
The laffer’s boffo score of 14.1/35 in adults 18-49 towered over the competish Wednesday and is the four-year series’ best number ever. It also capped an end-of-sweeps push that enabled ABC to tie NBC for the month’s hotly contested demo crown.
Or did ABC win?
Although it will go down in the record books as a May sweeps tie — the first ever in the key demo race — ABC did emerge on top if carried out to the hundredths of a ratings point: 5.52 to 5.49. ABC also delivered more viewers age 18-49, according to Nielsen, 6.88 million to 6.83 million.
Execs at neither net made much of a fuss Thursday after touting their net’s sweeps and season perfs in conference calls with reporters earlier in the week.
ABC won Wednesday in adults 18-49 over NBC, 9.6 vs. 5.9, resulting in a monthlong sweeps tie, with each net at 5.5/16.
The first-place finish caps an amazing turnaround season for ABC, with winning finishes in total viewers and young adults in each of the three sweeps periods and season victories in both categories. It’s the first time that ABC has captured a May sweep in adults 18-49 since 1994.
And for NBC, its first-place finish allows it to continue its streak as the top-ranked net among young adults for a sixth consecutive May. The net also finished first in adults 18-34 (4.9/16) and second in viewers (12.65 million) and adults 25-54 (6.2/16).
In a way it’s perhaps fitting that Fox’s farewell resulted in a tie between ABC and NBC for the coveted demo crown. The actor called NBC home for seven seasons when he starred in “Family Ties,” and Wednesday’s emotional “Spin” finale included several winks and nods to his “Family” character, Alex Keaton.
The hourlong episode averaged 32.76 million viewers — also a series best — and ranks eighth for the sweep among all programs. It delivered ABC’s largest aud in the Wednesday at 9 hour since the coming-out episode of “Ellen” in April 1997.
In adults 18-49, the “Spin” finale ranks as ABC’s top-ranked hour of the sweep, besting all celebrity editions of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Among all nets, it places fourth behind NBC’s hourlong season finales for Thursday’s “ER” (17.5/44), “Frasier” (17.0/41) and “Friends” (16.0/44).
Also key to ABC’s Wednesday victory were demo wins for “Millionaire” (6.7/21) and “20/20” (8.1/22). “Millionaire” easily topped a repeat of NBC’s “Friends” season finale (9.0 million, 4.6/15), although the laffer improved the net’s Wednesday sweeps average (2.6) by 77%.
Newsmag “20/20” delivered season bests in viewers (19.16 million) and adults 18-49 (8.1/22), topping NBC’s “Law & Order” in young adults (7.5/20) for a second straight week. The demo score ranks as the best this season for any newsmag on any network.
The only other net to step up Wednesday was the WB, whose “Dawson’s Creek” finale drew its largest aud (4.83 million) since Nov. 17 and best adults 18-49 rating (2.3/7) since Oct. 13.
Frog net’s recent sked moves resulted in a strong May sweep, with all six of its Monday-through-Wednesday dramas improving on February’s scores. The WB joins UPN as the only nets to maintain its adults 18-34 and adults 18-49 ratings levels vs. February.
As for “Millionaire,” its 17 hourly sweep installments averaged 26.1 million viewers and 8.1 in adults 18-49, down 9% and 16%, respectively, from February’s 16 hours (28.6, 9.6). Although it faded opposite some of the other nets’ big programming, it did provide a demo jolt to ABC in key slots, including Thursday at 9 (up 132% vs. last year) and Sunday at 9 (up 46%).
Total tally topper
In total viewers, ABC finished on top in May (15.41 million) for the first time since 1994-95.
The only other net to post May sweeps gains vs. last year was UPN, which was up by double-digits for the third time this season.
While wrestling’s “WWF Smackdown!” has been the major reason, the netlet also shows viewer and demo gains vs. last May on three other nights (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Outside of Thursday’s wrestling, Monday’s urban comedies have produced the biggest gains this month, up 150% in teens and 67% in adults 18-49.
Elsewhere, it was close, but CBS emerged as “the most-watched ‘Millionaire-less’ network,” edging NBC for the season in viewers (12.42 million to 12.34) while tying in homes (8.6/14). CBS also pointed to a third-place finish in women 18-49, topping Fox in the demo for the first time since 1995-96.
NBC noted that it continued to lead the competish during the 10:30-11 p.m. half-hour leading into affils’ local newscasts, although ABC has closed the gap. The Peacock’s 6.7/19 adults 18-49 rating in the half-hour on a Monday-Sunday basis tops ABC (5.5/15) and CBS (4.0/11).
Fox’s sweep highlights include a strong showing in its target demo of adults 18-34, where it placed four series in the top 10, led by “Beverly Hills, 90210,” which finished fourth behind only NBC’s three Thursday big guns.
As for sweep trends, perhaps the most startling fact is that the major nets used an unusually high percentage (11%) of previously aired product, primarily repeats of top theatricals and popular series. Fox led the way in repeats with 12½ of its 61 hours (21%), followed by ABC’s 12½ of 88 (14%) and NBC’s 10 of 88 (11%).
CBS went the most traditional route of the nets, airing just one half-hour sitcom repeat. The net’s regular sked also accounted for 82% of its sweeps programming — more than ABC (80%), Fox (77%) and NBC (72%).