ABC scores sweeps victory

Auds are making a practice out of watching ABC on Sunday, and it’s not just for its gameshow.

With Emmy-winning “The Practice” courting its largest audience in nearly three months, ABC has again scored a convincing victory on a key night in the May sweeps. And the David E. Kelley drama played a big part in keeping many viewers away from the final hour of high-profile pics on NBC and CBS.

On Sunday, “The Practice” (prelim 21.5 million viewers, 8.2/21 in adults 18-49) topped the second hour of NBC mini “Jason and the Argonauts” by nearly 8 million viewers and the second half of CBS’ “Cupid & Cate” by about 7 million, according to prelim national results from Nielsen. It’s “Practice’s” largest aud since Feb. 20.

Demo winner

Combined with lead-in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “The Practice” is also keeping NBC at bay in the sweeps battle for young adults. ABC’s 9-11 p.m. block averaged an 8.3/21 in adults 18-49, topping NBC’s prelim score of 5.4/14 for part one of “Jason.”

“The Practice” retained a best-yet 98% of its adults 18-49 lead-in from “Millionaire” (8.2 vs. 8.4).

This was the second week in a row that ABC was able to sap some of the demo strength out of an NBC mini. Like “The ’70s” a week earlier, “Jason” has gotten off to a much slower start than such monster NBC two-parters of recent May sweeps as “Noah’s Ark” and “Merlin.”

ABC’s “Millionaire”/”Practice” combo figures to get one of its stiffest tests yet next week when CBS sends “Jesus” after them.

Strong showing

All three of Sunday’s movies actually had something to crow about.

ABC’s musical “Geppetto,” starring Drew Carey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, was the night’s most-watched pic (prelim 14.5 million), although falling fall short of the blockbuster success of last November’s “Annie” (26.3 million). It was a big winner among kids (9.7/36).

CBS’ “Cupid,” a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, was the top-rated pic of the night in homes (prelim 10.6/17), topping “Jason” (8.7/14) and “Geppetto” (8.0/15). It’s the second straight week that an Eye pic has been No. 1 in homes, yet fallen behind a kid-fave ABC movie in total viewers.

And NBC’s “Jason,” which concluded Monday night, placed first among the pics in adults 18-49 (5.4/14), topping “Geppetto” (4.3/14) and “Cupid” (4.2/11) in prelims.

“Millionaire” (prelim 27.3 million, 8.4/21 in A18-49) returned to ratings on par with its recent Sunday outings after four highly rated celebrity editions. The quizzer topped Fox’s “The X-Files” by 29% in adults 18-49 (8.4 vs. 6.5) and nearly doubled “Cate,” its closest competitor in viewers (27.3 million vs. 13.8).

Puppet’s effect

Although no blockbuster, “Geppetto” was likely the reason that three series in the 8 p.m. hour — CBS’ “Touched by an Angel” (prelim 14.9 million) and Fox’s “The Simpsons” (11.9) and “Malcolm in the Middle” (12.3) — skidded to season lows in viewers for firstrun episodes.

Fox placed second to ABC on the night in adults 18-49 (5.2/15 to 6.3/18), while CBS was second in homes and total viewers.

Sunday’s results strengthen ABC’s hold on the May sweeps races. The Alphabet net has taken an estimated 0.7-ratings points lead over NBC in adults 18-49 (5.8 vs. 5.1) and enjoys a big advantage in viewers over NBC (16.2 million vs. 11.9 million).

ABC is also projected to win the week of May 2-7 in homes (by about 3.5 ratings points over CBS) and in adults 18-49 (by about 1.6 over NBC).

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