'Springer' down 38%, 'Oprah' rings in at No. 1

The rich got richer in syndication in February as last month’s sweeps saw “Oprah,” “E.T.,” “Judy” and “Divorce Court” all run away with wins in their categories. Unfortunately for others, the month was chilly with audiences according to the Nielsen report for Feb. 3 through March 1.

Daytime’s queen of talk, King World’s “Oprah” reclaimed the gab genre’s top spot after landing at No. 2 to Studios USA’s “Jerry Springer” last year. This time around, “Oprah” is up a marginal 1% year to year with a 7.0 rating. And the series has opened up a 2.6 ratings advantage over rival “Springer,” which finished at No. 2 with a 38% drop to a 4.5. Overall, five veteran talkers showed declines of 20% or more, year to year, with fellow Studios USA gabber “Sally Jessy Raphael” off 20% to a 3.2, Columbia TriStar’s “Ricki Lake” down 25% to a 2.7, Warner Bros.’ “Jenny Jones” sliding 28% to a 2.6, and King World’s “Roseanne” falling 83% to a .3 nationally, without the benefit of the NBC O&Os (which have shelved the show).

The news wasn’t all bad for the genre however. Studios USA’s “Maury” led the pack as fastest-growing talkshow in syndication, up 15% to a 3.9 and tying Warner’s “Rosie O’Donnell” for third place. The only other talker to gain was Columbia TriStar’s “Donny and Marie” which rose 6% to a 1.8.

Among newsmags, Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight” ruled the roost, defeating its nearest competitor by its widest margin ever. “Entertainment Tonight” grew 8% from last February’s rating to a 7.0. Warner’s “Extra” took the silver, down 12% to a 3.6, while King World’s “Inside Edition” slipped 16% to a 3.1 but Warner’s “Access Hollywood” managed an 8% rise to a 2.7.

The thriving court genre finally cooled a bit, coming off flat for the sweeps at a 4.0 average rating for the group. Paramount’s leading lady “Judge Judy” was unchanged year to year, but continued to dominate the category. Fellow Paramount strip “Judge Joe Brown” was the most remarkable among the vets, with a strong 26% increase to a 4.4 over last year. Warner’s “People’s Court” slipped a bit, down 3% to a 2.8. However, Paramount’s “Judge Mills Lane” took a big drop, down 27% from last year to a 2.4.

Veteran weekly hours found tight races across the board, as both off-net and firstrun races found ties for first. Among firstrun series, three shows finished within a tenth of a rating point of each other.

At the top of these hours, MGM’s “Stargate SG-1″ and Studios USA’s “Xena” landed 3.8 sweeps averages. “Stargate” is clearly the biggest gainer in the genre, with a big 27% improvement over last year, while “Xena” was down 12%. Right behind the top two was “E.T.’s” weekend version, which got a 3.7 average, up 16% from last Feb.

Off-net product found perennial rivals “The X-Files” from Twentieth and Warner’s “ER” tied for the top spot at a 4.5. “X-Files” was down 17% from last year, while sophomore “ER” was down 2% from last year.

Among freshmen, later was better for Studios USA, which saw January’s debut of “Back2Back Action” take top honors with a 3.0 average to lead the crop. Second and third was a photo finish between Tribune’s “Beastmaster” at a 2.5 and Paramount’s “Relic Hunter” at a 2.4.

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