‘GMA’ surge leads nets as ayem auds rise, shine

Sawyer, Gibson teaming given credit

The networks’ early morning news/talkers keep bucking viewer erosion trends, having expanded the overall network audience in that daypart during the fourth quarter of 1999.

With ABC’s “Good Morning America” soaring above 1998 levels thanks to the addition of Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson early last year, the nets’ three breakfastcasts added 750,000 viewers in the fourth quarter vs. year-ago totals, including 360,000 adults 25-54.

“GMA” by itself enjoyed even larger gains (up by nearly 1 million total viewers and nearly half a million adults 25-54), but NBC’s “Today” and CBS newcomer “The Early Show” get some of the credit for the daypart’s strong three-net performance because they held their year-to-year losses to modest levels despite much more formidable competition from ABC.

Apparently, most of “GMA’s” added viewership has come not at the expense of NBC and CBS, but as the result of expanded net viewership in those early morning hours.

“Today” is still dominant in the daypart, averaging 5.98 million viewers in the fourth quarter (equaling year-ago totals) and 2.98 million adults 25-54 (down 3%).

Despite the big “GMA” surge last January, ABC’s ayemcast remains a distant second, though still far ahead of year-ago figures. For the fourth quarter, “GMA” averaged 4.29 million total viewers (up 30%) and 2.02 million adults 25-54 (up 31%).

CBS’ fourth-quarter combo of one month of “This Morning” and two months of “The Early Show” averaged 2.69 million viewers (down 7%) and 1.16 million adults 25-54 (down 3%). So far, “The Early Show’s” arrival has done little to alter the Eye’s uncompetitive standing in the daypart.

In fourth-quarter latenight results, Jay Leno and David Letterman held steady in adults 18-49, while a surge in older viewers helped Letterman lop off 14% of Leno’s total-viewer advantage.

In the 18-49 demo, Leno’s “Tonight Show” matched its year-ago 2.5 rating, 12 share, while Letterman’s “Late Show” equaled its year-earlier 1.6/8. In total viewers, Leno improved 2% to an average 5.97 million while Letterman grew by 12% to 3.96 million: Letterman shaved 340,000 viewers off Leno’s lead but has about 2 million to go.

With the impending holidays apparently allowing some viewers to stay up later than usual during the Dec. 20-24 week, several latenight series enjoyed ratings spikes. “Tonight” stretched to its highest 18-49 average (3.7 million viewers) in a year; “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” equaled its biggest 18-49 total (2.0 million) in two years; ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” pontificated to its highest 18-49 audience (1.7 million) since last May; and CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn” grabbed a series-record 1.1 million viewers in that demo.

An influx of daytime viewers during Christmas week also aided ABC’s “The View,” which attracted a series-record 1.1 million viewers in the women 18-49 category.

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