Net squeaks by Alphabet to take sweeps lead

The February sweeps battle between NBC and ABC intensified over the weekend, with each net using its heavy artillery to maintain its lofty rating averages.

NBC, with Thursday’s “ER” logging its best marks in nearly two years and its Friday dramas rolling to easy victories, had to withstand a Sunday charge from ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The Practice” to emerge from the weekend with the sweeps lead in the coveted adults 18-49 demo. ABC has the lead in homes.

Based on Thursday nationals and prelim Nielsens for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the same order holds true for the week of Feb. 14-20, with NBC projected to win by a narrow margin in adults 18-49 and ABC prevailing by an even slimmer margin in homes. (National Nielsens for the week will be delayed one day this week due to the Presidents Day holiday.)

The projected adults 18-49 standings for the week are: NBC (5.8); ABC (5.6); Fox (5.3); and CBS (3.7).

In households, it’s: ABC (9.7); NBC (9.6); CBS (8.7); and Fox (7.3).

For the sweeps through 18 days, NBC leads with an estimated 5.9 rating in adults 18-49, followed by ABC (5.7), Fox (4.8) and CBS (3.6).

In households, the projected sweeps averages are: ABC (9.8); NBC (9.5); CBS (8.8); and Fox (6.7).

Network survival

“ER,” which dealt with a doctor and medical student’s fight to survive a stabbing attack, drew 39.4 million viewers — the most for a regularly scheduled entertainment program on any network since the “Seinfeld” finale in May, 1998. The show’s adults 18-49 tally (20.2/48) was a staggering 3-1/2 times greater than the combined ABC-CBS score in the 10 p.m. hour.

The dominating “ER” victory combined with the best ratings since September for a one-hour “Friends” (25.7 million viewers, 13.6/35 in adults 18-49) and a convincing demo win for “Frasier” at 9 p.m. to give NBC the largest margin of victory in adults 18-49 on a single night for any net this sweeps period. The Peacock topped second-place ABC by 22 shares in adults 18-49.

NBC dominated on Friday, as well, winning the night by 4 shares in adults 18-49 and by 7 shares in homes with its best numbers of the season.

A special two-hour cross-over episode of “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” averaged a 5.6 rating, 16 share in adults 18-49 from 9-10 p.m. and a 6.6/20 from 10-11 p.m. The special event seemed to bring more viewers to the net at 8 p.m., too, as “Providence” (prelim 16.5 million viewers, 5.2/16 in adults 18-49) was up by about 10% in both categories compared with the previous week.

ABC placed second on Friday in total viewers and adults 18-49 as a rebroadcast of “Liar Liar” — the network premiere had aired just four days earlier — held up very well, gaining viewers with each half-hour.

Another theatrical repeat on Saturday, the three-hour “Phenomenon” (11.3 million viewers, 4.5/14 in adults 18-49), won the night for ABC in adults 18-49. CBS prevailed in homes behind a “Martial Law”-”Walker, Texas Ranger” crossover that produced the best households rating for “Martial” (7.6/14) since last February and a season-high for “Walker” (9.8/18).

Losing steam

NBC’s “The Others” (prelim 7.1 million, 3.4/11 in adults 18-49) slipped in its third outing, placing third in adults 18-49 from 10-11 p.m.

On Sunday, ABC edged out Fox for the night in adults 18-49 (7.1 vs. 6.9) and won easily in total viewers behind the 9-11 p.m. combo of “Millionaire” and “The Practice.”

Prelim results show “Millionaire” (30.4 million, 10.1/23 in adults 18-49) matching its previous week’s largest audience-yet marks for a Sunday installment. The gamer is also making it difficult for high-profile sweeps telepics on CBS and NBC to get much traction in the 9 p.m. hour. This week, CBS’ “Flowers for Algernon” (prelim 12.6 million, 4.1/10 in adults 18-49) and NBC’s “Little Richard” (11.7 million, 4.2/10) both struggled.

“The Practice” (prelim 21.4 million, 8.5/22 in adults 18-49) improved upon last week’s effort for its third-best rating in both categories.

Fox’s “Cops”-themed episode of “The X-Files” (prelim 16.4 million, 8.5/19 in adults 18-49) was up slightly from the previous week, while the net’s “The Simpsons” and “Malcolm in the Middle” both easily won their half-hours in adults 18-49.

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