'Millionaire' crushes competish, 'Law' gives NBC slight edge

NBC and CBS, who battled it out for first place in the February sweeps household ratings race a year ago, went to a photo finish for second place in sweeps, with the nets finishing tied and NBC edging ahead in total viewers.

Wednesday’s “Law & Order” (12.5/21 in households, 18.32 million viewers) proved the difference for NBC, while CBS couldn’t make up enough ground with the conclusion of its mini “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town” (10.2/16, 13.93 million).

The two network leaders of a year ago stepped aside this month as ABC and its “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” steamrolled competition.

ABC, which had clinched first place in adults 18-49, households and total viewers a few days earlier, finished the sweep Wednesday with a flourish. An extra episode of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (31.98 million viewers, 10.3/28 in adults 18-49) lifted the Alphabet web to its third straight nightly victory in the 18-49 set.

“Millionaire” shows no signs of slowing down as Wednesday’s episode drew its fourth-largest audience yet and helped lead-out “The Drew Carey Show” (19.09 million, 9.2/23 in adults 18-49) post its third-best marks this season in both categories. After “Drew” at 9:30, “Norm” attracted its second-biggest audience in its two seasons (14.15 million).

The strong finish helped ABC maintain a 6.0/16 rating in adults 18-49, up 11% over its February 1999 results and even a slight gain over its November 1999 winning score of 5.9/15.

NBC, last February’s winner in both households and adults 18-49, used a strong series slate to finish second in young adults with a 5.6/15 (down 11% vs. a year ago), followed by Fox, 4.8/13 (down 11%); CBS, 4.0/11 (down 2%); UPN, 1.6/4 (up 23%); and WB, 1.5/4 (down 33%).

ABC won by a smaller margin in adults 25-54 (6.8/16 vs. NBC’s 6.5/16). Fox and CBS tied for third (4.8/12).

The final household standings are: ABC, 10.4/17 (up 17% vs. a year ago); NBC, 9.1/15 (down 9%), tied with CBS, (down 6%); Fox, 6.6/10 (down 8%); and UPN, 2.8/4 (up 33%), tied with the WB, 2.8/4 (down 22%).

Fox won the month in teens and posted its fourth consecutive sweeps victory in adults 18-34.

UPN continued its momentum in February with the net’s best sweeps auds in both adults 18-34 and 18-49 since November 1997 and its best among teens in its five-year history.

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