‘Millionaire’ minces new competish

Other nets' gamers run far behind

Primetime’s great gameshow glut has arrived, but the only real surprise in initial Nielsens is the continued growth of ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” despite the distraction of three competing gamers on three competing nets.

In other major midseason schedule shifts, Fox looks to have a hit on its hands with “Malcolm in the Middle” and NBC may be in for solid gains with the reskedded “Third Watch” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” but the grades aren’t nearly as good for “Freaks and Geeks” and Monday’s “Dateline” in their new time periods.

“Millionaire’s” largess, coupled with strong early-week football results, kept ABC solidly ahead for the Jan. 3-9 primetime Nielsens week (Daily Variety, Jan. 11).

In the race for second among adults 18-49, the premiere of “Malcolm” and strong midweek specials vaulted Fox ahead of NBC in adults 18-49 for only the second time this season. And it’s the first time the Peacock has slipped to third place in a week with all original segs on its Thursday schedule since Nov. 15-21, 1993.

In last week’s battle for second in households, a strong Friday start by “Law and Order: SVU” helped NBC best CBS in homes for the first time in seven weeks.

While “Millionaire” is surprisingly improving on its torrid November pace thus far, CBS’ “Winning Lines” and NBC’s “Twenty-One” have started with unspectacular gains over firstrun demo averages in their respective slots. To date, Fox’s more established “Greed” has proven more effective than “Lines” or “Twenty-One” at turning around problem timeslots.

Though it remains unchallenged, “Millionaire” is showing subtle signs of slowing. While its total-viewer tallies are still going up, the hit gameshow’s young-adult ratings look to be plateauing. And even the total viewer increases are largely attributable to overall gains in the rates of homes using TV, which peak during the winter months.

Last week’s adults 18-49 averages were ABC, a 5.7 rating, 15 share (down in rating by 2% vs. the same week last year); Fox, 5.4/14 (down 5%); NBC, 5.2/13 (down 12%); CBS, 4.1/10 (down 2%); UPN, 1.4/4 (up 40%); WB, 1.3/3 (down 24%); Pax TV, 0.3/1 (even).

National primetime 18-49 averages for the top cable services were USA, 1.1/3 (up 10%); HBO, 1.0/3 (down 9%); TNT, 0.9/2 (down 40%); TBS, 0.8/2 (even); Lifetime, 0.6/2 (down 14%); ESPN, 0.6/2 (up 50%).

In evening news, NBC started the year with a bang, reporting its biggest households margin of victory (0.7 of a rating point) since February.

Monday

“Millionaire” continued to prosper on Jan. 10, netting 25.33 million viewers and an 8.1 rating, 20 share, in adults 18-49. That’s a 13% jump in viewers vs. the gamer’s first Monday try in November, but just a 1% 18-49 gain.

At 9 p.m., ABC’s Muhammad Ali biopic (8.67 million, 3.8/9 in adults 18-49) got pummeled, losing a stunning 19 million viewers in its first half-hour vs. “Millionaire’s” last half-hour (8.83 million vs. 27.87 million).

NBC’s revamped lineup got off to a sluggish start, but managed the net’s highest Monday 18-49 average in eight weeks. Best results came at 10 p.m. with “Third Watch” (12.18 million, 5.2/13 in adults 18-49, up 16% vs. NBC’s slot 18-49 average), while “Freaks and Geeks” (7.59 million, 3.3/8, up 6%) and “Dateline” (11.08 million, 3.8/9, down 10%) struggled against killer competition.

CBS soared to its highest non-sports Monday demos in 53 weeks, as “Everybody Loves Raymond” (20.79 million, 7.8/18 in adults 18-49) and “Becker” (17.90 million, 6.3/14) injected series-record numbers.

“Raymond” had its closest 9-9:30 finish ever behind a firstrun “Ally McBeal” (15.70 million, 8.9/20 in adults 18-49), trailing by a mere 0.3 ratings-point margin that half-hour.

Sunday

Fox’s 1999-2000 freshman class finally produced a star pupil, as “Malcolm in the Middle” earned the best-ever 18-49 build for any comedy (besides an extra “Simpsons”) in a post-“Simpsons” slot (Daily Variety, Jan. 11).

CBS’ lineup got a huge lead-in from Miami-Seattle football, which tackled a 25.4/42 in homes from 7-7:09. Counted as a separate program, that segment would be the top-rated primetime telecast of the season to date. The entire game averaged a 20.3/38, which also beats all primetime fare this season except a couple early-autumn episodes of “ER.”

Rugged “Millionaire” competition dropped CBS’ “People’s Choice Awards” to its lowest households average ever.

NBC’s debut of “Twenty-One” was a households success but managed just a fourth-place slot finish in adults 18-49 despite an 8% improvement over the firstrun 18-49 average of slot predecessor “Third Watch.”

Saturday

New gameshow “Winning Lines” collected CBS’ best regular-fare homes rating that half-hour since last April 3, but couldn’t energize the Eye’s Saturday lineup demographically. CBS finished fourth for the night in its target adults 25-54 demo. At 9 p.m., telethon preemptions threw the Eye’s “Martial Law” to season low numbers.

Friday

NBC stretched its Friday lead with the successful arrival of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” while Fox established itself as a strong No. 2 among adults 18-49 with its new regulars “Police Videos” and “Greed” (Daily Variety, Jan. 10).

The WB’s “Jamie Foxx” trotted to season-high numbers.

Thursday

“Greed” hoarded Fox’s best Thursday 9-10 p.m. homes rating since May, keeping Fox second for the night in adults 18-49, though a huge 17 shares behind NBC’s powerhouse lineup.

Wednesday

“Greed” cashed in its second-best Nielsens to date, beating Fox’s 18-49 average in the slot this season by 41% (5.2 vs. 3.7). At 8 p.m., a “Sitcom Scandals” spec uncovered the best Fox 18-49 rating that hour since last March 10.

Tuesday

ABC’s Florida State-Virginia Tech college football championship threw the competition for a loss, accumulating the largest audience for a non-NFL sportscast since Michael Jordan’s final NBA game in June 1998 (Daily Variety, Jan. 6).

A rerun of “Mrs. Doubtfire” ignited Fox’s highest nonsports Tuesday 18-49 average since last March 2.

NBC’s “Veronica’s Closet” showed promise in its first Tuesday try, holding 91% of its 18-49 lead-in from “Will & Grace.” The slot’s last regular occupant, “The Mike O’Malley Show,” got a quick hook due to its awful 64% average retention.

Monday

ABC led Jan. 3 standings, though “Monday Night Football” limped into retirement for the season with its second-lowest homes rating ever (Daily Variety, Jan. 5).

A pair of special “That ’70s Show” reruns embarrassed slot regular “Time of Your Life,” nearly doubling “Time’s” 18-49 season average (a 5.4 rating vs. a 2.9).

Each household rating point represents an estimated 1 million homes, or 1% of the country’s TV households. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.24 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. The share is also a percentage, but measured against only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.

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