Huge '90210' spec drives major nets' surge

Fox’s farewell episode of “Beverly Hills 90210” blew away the competish among young viewers Wednesday, highlighting a fiercely competitive night that saw total viewership among the major nets surge to a Wednesday season high.

“90210’s” two-hour sendoff averaged 14.37 million viewers and an 8.5/22 in adults 18-49 — its best numbers in nearly 4½ years. It won every half-hour in the demo, including a 5-share victory over ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in its first hour and a 6-share win over ABC’s “Spin City” in its final half-hour.

It did even better among adults 18-34, according to Nielsen, winning both hours by 20 shares, including a whopping 17.3/42 in women 18-34 — the show’s best since September 1994. In its final half-hour, “90210” won in women 18-34 by 29 shares over “Spin City.”

Elsewhere Wednesday, the third week of sweeps wrapped with a 9-11 p.m. viewer victory for CBS and its conclusion of “Jesus” (18.42 million) and boffo numbers for ABC’s “20/20” (16.26 million, 7.1/18 in adults 18-49), which featured an interview with Michael J. Fox.

ABC wins

ABC won the night in viewers (18.1 million), led by “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (22.41 million), the most-watched program of the night. CBS was second (15.0 million), followed by Fox (14.4) and NBC (12.9).

Combined, the four nets averaged a Wednesday season-best 60.4 million viewers, up considerably from the previous week’s 47.1 million.

In adults 18-49, Fox won with an 8.5/22 for its two hours. ABC, whose “20/20” took the 10 p.m. hour, placed second (6.8/18), followed by CBS (4.8/13) and NBC (4.7/12). Combined, the four-net adults 18-49 share was a 71 at 9:30, the highest of the season and up a stunning 22 shares from last week’s 49.

The Alphabet’s strong night enabled it to build on its adults 18-49 sweeps lead over NBC. With one week to go, ABC leads in the key demo with a 5.5/16 (up 25% in rating vs. a year ago); NBC, 5.2/15 (down 12%); Fox, 4.2/12 (down 5%); CBS, 3.5/10 (down 8%); UPN, 1.6/5 (up 45%); and the WB, 1.4/4 (down 18%).

NBC is second

In total viewers, ABC leads with an average 15.40 million viewers (up 45%), followed by NBC, 12.14 (down 12%); CBS, 11.90 (down 9%); Fox, 8.41 (down 11%); UPN, 4.02 (up 36%); and the WB, 3.41 (down 18%).

For ABC’s “20/20,” Diane Sawyer’s interview with Fox delivered the program’s largest Wednesday aud since April 21, 1999 (Columbine massacre). In adults 18-49, its 7.1 was the best rating posted by any newsmag this season. “20/20” also topped NBC’s “Law & Order” (6.8) for the first time since Oct. 20.

“Jesus” lost about one-fourth of its Sunday aud but it still ranks as the season’s most-watched miniseries (21.56 million) and is tied with ABC’s “The Beach Boys” as the No. 1 mini among adults 18-49 (7.1/17). It won each half-hour in viewers and edged both “20/20” and “Law” in adults 18-49 at 10:30 (7.0 vs. 6.9).

Through three weeks of sweeps, ABC is winning four nights of the week in adults 18-49, compared with NBC’s two and Fox’s 1. The Alphabet’s biggest gains are coming on Thursday, where it’s up 79% compared with a year ago.

Lineup in other races

In other sweeps races, ABC leads the pack in adults 25-54 (6.3 vs. NBC’s 6.0), teens (3.8 vs. Fox’s 3.5) and kids (3.3 vs. Fox’s 2.0). Fox’s big Wednesday has pushed it to the lead in adults 18-34 (4.7 vs. NBC’s 4.6 and ABC’s 4.5).

As for season-to-date races, ABC has already clinched first place in homes, total viewers and adults 18-49. A close battle for second place in homes and total viewers is being waged between CBS and NBC. With a week to go, CBS led by a tenth of a ratings point in homes and by roughly 180,000 viewers (12.46 million vs. 12.28).

Among the weblets, UPN surpassed the WB in homes six weeks ago (2.7 vs. 2.6) and that margin remained with one week to go.

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