Eye mini banishes 'Millionaire' from top

CBS has broken through on a Sunday, and it only seems right that it was Jesus and some angels leading the way.

The Eye net’s “Jesus” got off to a rousing start Sunday, posting the strongest opening ratings and demos for any mini this season and becoming the first program to top a Sunday seg of ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in total viewers. Combined with a strong lead-in from “Touched by an Angel,” CBS topped the Alphabet by nearly 4 million viewers on the night.

CBS also shined in the demo department, winning the night in adults 18-49 (6.1/17) and adults 25-54 (7.3/19). It was the net’s first victory on a Sunday in adults 18-49 since Jan. 2 (telepic “Beyond the Prairie: The Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder”) and its best ratings in both demos since Jan. 16 (football overrun).

Sunday’s results have done little to change the key May sweeps races. According to prelim results from the weekend, ABC maintains roughly a 0.2-ratings point advantage over NBC in adults 18-49 (5.5 vs. 5.3) and a 3-million viewer cushion in total audience (15.2 million vs. 12.2).

ABC is projected to win its 20th straight week in total viewers and homes (including one tie) with an estimated 9.3 homes rating to NBC’s 9.0.

In adults 18-49, NBC will top ABC for the second time in the last three weeks, thanks to its huge Thursday and narrow victories on Friday and Saturday. NBC will finish the week of May 8-14 with roughly a 5.5 in the demo to ABC’s 4.9.

Sea change

Winning on Sunday in total viewers had been routine for CBS prior to the emergence of “Millionaire” in January. After topping ABC in 12 of the season’s first 15 weeks, CBS had only won four of the last 18 facing the Alphabet’s strong combo of “Millionaire” and “The Practice.”

The critically heralded “Jesus,” starring Jeremy Sisto in the title role, bowed before an estimated 24.1 million viewers, according to prelim results from Nielsen. It topped “Millionaire” by about a million viewers (24.5 million vs. 23.5), although the quizzer edged ahead in the second half-hour (25.6 vs. 24.9).

Among the nation’s top markets, “Jesus” was an especially big winner in San Francisco (16.3/28 in homes) and Los Angeles (16.1/25 overnights in homes). Best score among the top 25 markets metered by Nielsen came from Salt Lake City (25.9/38).

The 8.2/20 rating in adults 18-49 for “Jesus” is the Eye net’s best rating in the demo with a Sunday pic in the nearly 2½ years since the Roma Downey starrer “Borrowed Hearts: A Holiday Romance” (Nov. 30, 1997). “Jesus,” which concludes Wednesday, topped “Millionaire” by 3 shares in adults 18-49 (20 vs. 17) and “The Practice” by 4 shares (20 vs. 16).

On the rise

Viewership on Mother’s Day is typically lower than the neighboring Sundays in May, but auds for each of the nets built gradually from 7 to 9 p.m. For CBS, “Angel” (prelim 16.9 million) provided its Sunday pic with its strongest adults 18-49 lead-in (4.8/14) since April 2.

ABC’s “Mulan” (prelim 10.7 viewers) struggled, but built to a second-place 13.4 million viewers at 8:30. And NBC’s three-hour “Saturday Night Live 25th Anniversary” spec (repackaged from last September’s highly rated version) kept the Peacock competitive on the night. Its 9-11 p.m. adults 18-49 average (5.9/14) tops last week’s part one of “Jason and the Argonauts” (5.5/14) and ranks as the net’s second-best score since November in what’s usually its pic slot.

According to prelims, NBC finished fourth in adults 18-49 (4.8/14), but just 3 shares out of first. First-place CBS was followed by Fox (5.3/15) and ABC (5.2/14).

No slouch

As for “Millionaire,” although it failed to win on Sunday in adults 18-49 for the first time since becoming a series regular, its 4-share slip in the demo vs. a week ago (17 vs. 21) is respectable considering this was some of the strongest competish it figures to face. And again, it built on the half-hour in the demo (from 6.5/16 to 7.9/18).

“The Practice” also felt the effects of “Jesus,” slipping to its lowest demo rating for an original episode (6.4/16) since Dec. 12.

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