Drama tops net's Sun pic average

The plan was anything but fail-safe.

See our review of “Fail Safe.”

Sunday night’s black-and-white airing of “Fail Safe” on CBS, the first live broadcast of a dramatic movie on television in nearly 40 years, drew solid Nielsens, topping the net’s Sunday-pic average among young adults and bringing big gains in all key male demos.

The brainchild of George Clooney, the remake starred a bevy of Hollywood stars, including Richard Dreyfuss, Harvey Keitel and Clooney. It averaged a 10.4 household rating and 16 share from 9-11 p.m., according to preliminary results from Nielsen. Program attracted about 18 million viewers in its first half hour, but dipped to about 14.3 million in the 10:30 half-hour. For its two hours, it averaged a second-place 15.9 million viewers.

In the key advertising demo of adults 18-49, “Fail Safe” did very well, its prelim rating of 5.8/14 about 23% better than the network’s average this season for the “CBS Sunday Movie” (4.7/11). And among men, “Fail Safe” brought substantial increases to the time period — up 71% in men 25-54 (7.7/17 vs. 4.5/10), up 68% in men 18-49 (6.2/15 vs. 3.7/9) and up 62% in men 18-34 (4.2/12 vs. 2.6/17).

Golden Age again

Pic, based on a 1962 novel of the same name about the tensions that arise when a U.S. bomber group is accidentally ordered to drop nuclear warheads on Moscow, was a throwback to the Golden Age of television. It’s the first time a live, feature-length movie has been broadcast on television since CBS’ “Playhouse 90″ ended its run in 1961.

A film adaptation of the novel was released theatrically in 1964; it starred Henry Fonda, Larry Hagman and Walter Matthau. Walter Bernstein, who wrote the screenplay for the pic, returned to write the teleplay. Stephen Frears directed the live telecast.

CBS had already announced plans to air another live movie, a new version of “On Golden Pond” starring Julie Andrews, probably in November. The net reported Monday that “Fail Safe’s” primary sponsors, Ford and State Farm Insurance, will be back for “Pond.”

According to prelim Nielsens, CBS won the night in homes by a narrow margin over ABC, with the nets in an even closer battle among total viewers. In adults 18-49, ABC and Fox appear to have tied (5.7/15), followed by CBS (5.1/14) and NBC (2.4/6).

ABC was led again by “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which went from a 5-share homes advantage over “Fail Safe” in its first half-hour to an 11-share bulge at 9:30. For the hour, “Millionaire” averaged about 26 million viewers and an 8.4/19 in adults 18-49.

At 10 p.m., ABC’s “The Practice” (prelim 13.7/22 in homes, 7.7/20 in A18-49) topped “Fail Safe” by 6 shares in homes and by 5 shares in young adults.

Ratings for Sunday’s season finale of HBO’s “The Sopranos” and TNT’s new version of “Don Quixote” will be released today.

On the record

Also today, Nielsen officially announced that ABC has won a record-setting 15th straight week in homes. Factoring in prelim ratings for the weekend, ABC averaged roughly an 8.9 for the week of April 3-9, followed by CBS (8.2), NBC (7.5) and Fox (5.1). In adults 18-49, ABC will take its seventh straight week, with an estimated 4.8. NBC is second (4.1), followed by CBS and Fox in a battle for third (roughly a 3.7 for each).

Elsewhere, CBS’ coverage of the Masters golf tournament averaged a 7.5/18 on Saturday and Sunday, according to prelim national Nielsens. Saturday’s 5.9/15 was up 18% from last year’s 5.0/15 and is tied for the third-best third-round rating since 1984. Sunday’s 9.9/22 trailed 1999′s average of 10.1/22 for the final round by 2% and is tied for the fifth-best rating since 1981. CBS estimates that 39 million people watched at least some of the network’s Masters coverage, up 6% from last year’s 36.7 million.

The Masters peaked three years ago when Tiger Woods’ successful run at the title drew a whopping 15.8/32 for its final round on Sunday.

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