Sunday, minis go head-to-head

NBC’s Friday lineup held up well against ABC, boosted by a special “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” as the two nets remained in a virtual tie for the February sweeps demo crown heading into Sunday’s battle of the minis.

With four nights remaining in the sweeps, ABC and NBC were tied among adults 18-49, according to Nielsen results for Thursday and prelim ratings for Friday and Saturday. The race figures to be decided by the numbers for multi-parters that began Sunday on both nets — “The Beach Boys: An American Family” on ABC and “The 10th Kingdom” on NBC. Each also faces tough competition from CBS’ “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town.”

The Alphabet web’s two-parter is aided by “Millionaire,” which aired before “The Beach Boys” last night and will do so again tonight. The Peacock’s five-parter, three of which will air during sweeps, faces “Millionaire” tonight during part two and Wednesday during part three.

On Friday, NBC’s “Providence” (prelim 14.8 million viewers, 4.9/16 in adults 18-49) held its own against the first half-hour of “Millionaire.” Auds may have been surprised by the unusual 8:30 p.m. start time for the hit gamer, as it added nearly 7 million viewers at 9 p.m., most of those at NBC’s expense. For its hour, “Millionaire” averaged about 23 million viewers and an adults 18-49 score of 6.6/20.

At 10 p.m., “Law & Order: SVU” (prelim 13.6 million, 5.2/16 in adults 18-49) topped ABC’s “20/20″ by 3 shares in adults 18-49 to keep the night close.

ABC appears to have won the night in adults 18-49 (4.7 vs. 4.6, according to prelims) and total viewers, while NBC edged ahead in adults 25-54. The close finish is a boost to NBC’s sweeps chances, though, as it managed to keep ABC from winning convincingly on a night that featured one of its late-sweeps “Millionaire” additions.

The Alphabet web was hurt by the 9:30 performance of “The Hughleys” (prelim 9.8 million, 3.3/10 in adults 18-49), which lost a staggering 13 shares from its adults 18-49 lead-in and 16 shares from its homes lead-in, despite a special musical episode based on “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

NBC, which trailed ABC in the demo race by two-tenths of a point heading into Thursday, pulled even by winning Feb. 24 by 13 shares over ABC. The Peacock’s “Frasier” won its half-hour in adults 18-49 (10.3/25) by its widest margin yet over “Millionaire” (7.5/18), although “Millionaire” topped a repeat “Will & Grace” at 9:30.

At 10 p.m., a “20/20 Downtown” interview with Darva Conger (the bride on Fox’s “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?”) drew ABC’s largest newsmag audience for the hour (16.95 million, 5.8/15 in adults 18-49) since Dec. 4, 1997.

ABC’s gains didn’t harm NBC’s “ER” much, though, as the medical drama won its hour by 24 shares in adults 18-49 with ratings that were up slightly over the same week a year ago.

Saturday went to Fox in adults 18-49, as its reality series won three of four half-hours in the demo. ABC placed second with the three-hour rebroadcast of “Ransom” (prelim 9.7 million, 3.8/12 in adults 18-49) — airing just four days after its network premiere.

CBS won its second straight Saturday in total viewers, but finished just behind NBC in fourth place among adults 18-49.

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