Thursday finales could give NBC ratings lead

Fox’s “Beverly Hills, 90210” is wrapping its run with big ratings, and CBS’ “Jesus” mini has opened to boffo numbers as well.

And nobody could be happier than … NBC.

The Peacock still trails ABC by a slim margin in the key May sweeps battle for adults 18-49, but it is clearly benefiting from the other nets’ solid showings opposite the Alphabet’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

NBC won the week of May 8-14 in adults 18-49 — its second victory in the last three weeks following a nine-week ABC first-place run — and is very much alive for the sweep’s coveted young-adults crown.

ABC continues its amazing run in total viewers, winning for the 20th straight week. Second-place NBC came within 800,000 viewers of ABC last week (12.84 million vs. 13.64) — the closest any net has been during the streak.

With ABC’s hopes of winning a third consecutive sweeps crown in young adults riding almost entirely on the shoulders of “Millionaire,” the quizzer’s drop in demo strength opposite intense sweeps competish is helping NBC’s cause.

Regular segs of “Millionaire” are no longer dominating any of their hours, and even with NBC encountering demo troubles of its own throughout the week, the fact that it’s not getting blown away each time “Millionaire” airs is helping it stay in the race. NBC’s big chance to assume the lead comes Thursday with finales for “Friends,” “Frasier” and “ER.”

“Millionaire” has lost its previous two hours in adults 18-49 — Sunday to “Jesus” and Thursday to NBC’s “Frasier.” And a night earlier, a special Wednesday edition of the quizzer topped the penultimate episode of “90210” by just 2 shares in the demo.

The fierce competition keeps coming tonight, too, as “Millionaire” figures to have all it can handle against the first half of the “90210” finale and CBS’ Judds reunion spec.

“Millionaire” is still providing ABC with solid gains over its May 1999 numbers, but its perfs last week paled in comparison with two weeks ago, when celebrity editions helped “Millionaire” claim the top five spots among viewers and four of the top five in adults 18-49.

Last week, the quizzer’s four segs ranked third, fourth, sixth and seventh in viewers, but slipped to seventh, eighth, 11th and 14th in adults 18-49. While that drop is not huge, it just may be the crack that allows NBC to take the month.

The three most-watched programs last week were “ER” (32.67 million viewers), part one of “Jesus” (24.10) and Sunday’s “Millionaire” (23.94).

In adults 18-49, NBC’s Thursday lineup took the top five spots, led by “ER” (16.2/42), “Frasier” (11.3/31) and a repeat “Frasier” (10.3/27).

Although it hit some big speed bumps on Wednesday and Friday, CBS had a good week with “Jesus” and the strongest competitive finishes of the season from its top series.

The net’s Monday laffer “Everybody Loves Raymond” topped a firstrun “Ally McBeal” in adults 18-49 and women 18-49 for the first time, while Tuesday drama “Judging Amy” bested “NYPD Blue” by its largest margin to date in homes (1.2 ratings points). And on Sunday, “Touched by an Angel” topped a firstrun “Malcolm in the Middle” by a best-yet 24% in adults 25-54 (6.7 vs. 5.4).

May sweeps adults 18-49 averages through Monday: ABC, 5.4/16 (up 29% in rating vs. a year ago); NBC, 5.3/15 (down 12%); Fox, 4.0/12 (down 9%); CBS, 3.4/10 (down 11%); UPN, 1.7/5 (up 55%); the WB, 1.4/4 (down 18%).

In total viewers, it’s: ABC, 15.19 million (up 45%); NBC, 12.19 (down 13%); CBS, 11.65 (down 10%); Fox, 8.23 (down 9%); UPN, 4.16 (up 51%); the WB, 3.32 (down 23%).

For the week of May 8-14, adults 18-49 averages: NBC, 5.5/16 (down 2%); ABC, 4.9/14 (up 17%); Fox, 4.1/12 (down 7%); CBS, 3.6/11 (down 10%); UPN, 1.7/5 (up 70%); the WB, 1.4/4 (down 18%); Pax, 0.3/1 (even).

Adults 18-49 averages for the nation’s top cable services: TNT, 1.1/3 (up 22%); HBO, 0.9/3 (down 18%); USA, 0.8/2 (down 11%); TBS, 0.7/2 (down 22%); Lifetime, 0.5/1 (even).

Monday

ABC edged CBS in viewers and placed second to Fox in young adults on May 15 behind the three-hour preem of “Air Force One” (13.87 million, 5.1/14 in A18-49). “Air” really soared in its final hour, winning by 4 million viewers and by 6 shares in adults 18-49.

Fox’s programs swept each half-hour in adults 18-49 from 8-10, including a 3-share victory at 9:30 for “Ally McBeal” over both “Air Force One” and CBS’ “Becker.”

The WB’s “Roswell” rewarded the Frog net for its renewal as the rookie drama joined lead-in “7th Heaven” to deliver the weblet’s best Monday of the season in a number of key demos, including adults 18-34 (2.5/7), women 18-34 (3.3/9) and men 18-34 (1.7/5).

“Roswell’s” season finale earned a 2.8/4 in homes — a Monday high — and also logged season highs in adults 18-34 (1.9/5) and women 18-34 (2.5/6), among other demos. “Heaven” hit a season high in adults 18-34 (3.1/10) and men 18-34 (2.1/7).

A special 10 p.m. “48 Hours” delivered CBS’ best non-sports adults 18-49 rating in the slot (4.8/13) since another “48 Hours” spec on Jan. 31.

Whitney Houston’s appearance helped Arista’s 25th anni spec match NBC’s second-best adults 18-49 share in the 9 p.m. hour (11) since October.

Sunday

With “Jesus” leading the way, the four major nets surged to a combined 68 share in adults 18-49 in the 9 p.m. hour, their highest total this season (excepting Super Bowl Sunday). The previous non-Super Bowl high was the 64 on Jan. 23 (“Golden Globes”).

“Jesus” ranked sixth for the week in adults 18-49 (8.2/20), men 18-49 (7.5/19) and women 18-49 (8.9/21). It also did very well among kids (5.2/26).

Pic improved upon the Eye’s Sunday pic average by 53% in viewers (24.1 million vs. 15.8) and by 74% in adults 18-49 (8.2 vs. 4.7).

Fox’s “The X-Files” improved upon its “Malcolm in the Middle” lead-in by a best-yet 19% (7.0 vs. 5.9) and matched its best adults 18-49 share (17) since February.

CBS won the night in adults 18-49 with a 6.1, followed in a bunch by Fox (5.4), ABC (5.3) and NBC (5.1).

Saturday

The two-hour wrap for “The Pretender” delivered its best adults 18-49 rating (3.5/12) since Feb. 19, and helped NBC to its first Saturday victory in young adults (tied with ABC) since Feb. 5 (“The Others” premiere).

ABC was led by a quickie repeat of “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” which won its final hour in adults 18-49.

CBS won in viewers as “Walker, Texas Ranger” corralled its largest aud (12.52 million) since Feb. 26.

Friday

NBC won comfortably in viewers, but ABC closed to within 1 share in adults 18-49 for the second straight week.

ABC’s preem of pic “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” built to a strong finish, winning its 9:30 half-hour by 20 shares in female teens, 9 shares in adults 18-34 and 5 shares in both men and women 18-49.

CBS’ “Miss Universe Pageant” fell to a lowest-yet 6.1/11 in homes, but it did pick up a lot of “Romy’s” female teen aud at 10 — winning the hour by 14 shares in the demo.

Without drama competition from CBS’ “Nash Bridges,” NBC’s rookie hit “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (13.70 million, 5.0/15 in A18-49) hit 12-week highs. “SVU” matched its largest margin of victory in adults 18-49 with a Friday 10 p.m. episode (4 shares over ABC); the other time it did it was Feb. 4 — when CBS ran another pageant, “Miss USA.”

Thursday

After ABC closed to within 7 shares of NBC a week earlier, the Peacock soared to an impressive 22-share victory over the Alphabet. “Frasier” topped “Millionaire” by a best-yet 82% in young adults (11.3 vs. 6.2) while “ER” said goodbye to Julianna Margulies’ character with its second-best numbers of the season (Daily Variety, May 15).

A “Frasier” repeat delivered the net’s largest 9:30 aud since Dec. 16 (“Stark Raving Mad”) and its best adults 18-49 score (10.3/27) since last May. Compared with the third Thursday of the May 1999 sweeps, NBC was up 9% in adults 18-49, 13% in adults 25-54 and 11% in total viewers.

Wednesday

The penultimate episode of “Beverly Hills, 90210” and a behind-the-scenes spec lifted Fox to within one-tenth of a ratings point of adults 18-49 leader ABC. In women 18-34, spec drew the net’s best rating (11.9/29) since a magic special in November 1997 (Daily Variety, May 12).

“Millionaire” slipped to the lowest aud for any of its 8 p.m. segs (22.55 million) since a movie-themed special edition on Friday, March 24.

CBS lineup of a Charlie Brown spec and telepic “Sharing the Secret” delivered the net’s smallest Wednesday aud (7.81 million) of the season.

UPN’s “Star Trek: Voyager” (5.53 million, 3.1/8 in A18-49) navigated to its best ratings since Feb. 9.

Tuesday

ABC beat NBC in adults 18-49, although the Peacock’s “Will & Grace” (6.4/17) topped a firstrun “Dharma & Greg” (6.2/17) for the first time since November.

Fox spec “Battle of the Child Geniuses” posted the net’s best Tuesday ratings since “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” in February (Daily Variety, May 11).

Monday

It was a very close battle on May 8, with ABC edging both CBS in viewers (12.93 million vs. 12.87) and Fox in adults 18-49 (5.3/15 vs. 5.2/14) (Daily Variety, May 10).

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