Net rides 'Millionaire' to victory in key demo and viewers

The February crown is ABC’s to lose at this point, as the Alphabet network is expected this morning to declare its first February sweeps victory among young adults in almost a decade — and first February title among total viewers in five years.

ABC last won the month with adults 18-49 in 1991, when the web ended February in a three-way tie with NBC and CBS. The network’s last No. 1 finish in the total viewers race was a tie with CBS in 1995.

But ABC execs had to dust off the record books to uncover the last time it won both measurements without a tie. The month was February 1988, when family laffers such as “Who’s the Boss” and “Growing Pains” ruled ABC’s lineup.

The Alphabet web had already put a lock on the month’s households and total viewer races, while ABC and NBC had been in a tie for the sweep’s adults 18-49 crown prior to Sunday. But the night’s results put ABC in front by about one-tenth of a ratings point (5.8 vs. 5.7).

ABC appears poised to win at least two and probably three of the sweep’s remaining nights, putting an end to the chances of a stubborn NBC.

Still, NBC execs were keeping hope alive. Speaking to reporters during a conference call Monday, the Peacock said the adults 18-49 title was still up for grabs.

“This is more competitive than a lot of people expected us to be,” NBC West Coast prexy Scott Sassa said.

Sassa noted that ABC scheduled 16 hours of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” comprising about 18% of the network’s sweeps schedule.

“ABC is doing the best they can to use this weapon that they have, and it’s their right to use it,” said NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier. “That’s why they’re winning sweeps, it’s accomplished their goal. When it’s 18% of the schedule, you’re flirting with disaster (in overexposing the franchise). But so far it’s holding up well.”

CBS topper Leslie Moonves said he doesn’t feel ABC is somehow misusing “Millionaire” by running it so often during the crucial ratings frame.

“ABC deserves a lot of kudos for the ‘Millionaire.’ It delivered time and time again,” he said. “If I had ‘Millionaire,’ it would be 18% of my schedule, too.”

Meanwhile, the second-place race among households and total viewers is worth watching as February comes to a close. In both instances, the silver medal may be decided by a photo finish between NBC and CBS.

Through Sunday, fast nationals show NBC averaging a 9.3 rating among homes, compared to CBS’ 9.1.

The race is just as tight among total viewers, where NBC is averaging 13.7 million viewers vs. CBS’ 13.4 million.

With NBC committed to “The 10th Kingdom” (which didn’t attract royal numbers Sunday) on Monday and Wednesday, and CBS’ strong early-week lineup still to come, Eye execs are predicting they’ll squeak into second place.

“We’re very pleased,” Moonves said, pointing out that CBS is on track to have the month’s two highest-rated minis (“Sally Hemings” and “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town”) and the most-watched Grammycast in seven years.

Moonves said the Eye’s regular sked “did very well” in February despite facing the “Millionaire” steamroller.

The CBS topper said ABC’s frequent use of “Millionaire” only pointed out just how irrelevant sweeps have become.

“When a single show can dominate a sweeps period like ‘Millionaire,’ then it changes what sweeps means. It points out even more clearly what the problems with sweeps are.”

Surf’s up

ABC got some good ratings vibrations from the opening night of its “Beach Boys” miniseries Sunday as the two-parter bested NBC’s mini entry, “The 10th Kingdom,” and has the Alphabet web in the driver’s seat for the February sweeps.

ABC’s “Boys,” which finished second behind CBS’ “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town” in total viewers, rode the wave of its “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” lead-in to win the two-hour mini-battle among adults 18-49.

According to prelim Nielsen results, “Beach Boys” scored a 7.5 rating, 17 share in adults 18-49, compared with “Perfect Murder’s” 6.4/14 and “Kingdom’s” 5.7/13. From 9-10 p.m., though, Fox’s “The X-Files” (prelim 15.2 million viewers, 8.3/17 in adults 18-49) beat all of its competitors in the key demo.

“Beach Boys: An American Family,” which concluded Monday following a special episode of “Millionaire,” actually built upon its audience for most of the night — an unusual occurrence for a show following ABC’s dominant “Millionaire.” It also won rather easily in each of the nation’s top three markets, including a 9-share victory over second-place “Perfect Murder” in the Boys’ back yard of Los Angeles.

“The 10th Kingdom,” from Robert Halmi Sr., who produced ratings juggernauts for NBC that include “Merlin” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” could not overcome a weak lead-in from the net’s NBA coverage (4.7 million, 1.9/6 in adults 18-49) and “Dateline” (6.1 million, 2.2/5 in adults 18-49).

In a few markets, though, including New York, the NBC mini actually defied all lead-in laws by placing first in its 9 p.m. half-hour. In Gotham, “Kingdom” began the night with a 2-share advantage over “Beach,” but the ABC mini moved ahead by 4 shares in the final half-hour.

‘Murder’ won

“Perfect Murder,” the story of the investigation into the unsolved murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, helped CBS win the night in households (prelim 12.1/19 vs. ABC’s 11.9/18), while ABC edged ahead in total viewers (18.7 million for ABC vs. 17.6 for CBS). “Murder” fared best in some of the smaller markets for which Nielsen provides overnight results. Among the top 20 markets, “Murder’s” best scored came from Denver (15.7/23), not too far from the Ramseys’ residence in Boulder, Colo.

ABC and Fox were in a close battle for the nightlong adults 18-49 victory on Sunday, with the Alphabet projected to prevail, 7.0 to 6.9.

The strong Sunday clinched the week of Feb. 21-27 for ABC, which is projected to win in adults 18-49 with roughly a 6.2, followed by NBC (5.2), CBS (5.0) and Fox (4.8).

In households, ABC will win with about a 10.9, followed by CBS (10.1), NBC (8.6) and Fox (6.3).

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more