Thursday sweeps NBC into lead

'Frasier' draws its best rating, tops all comedies this season

After the dust settled from NBC’s Thursday ratings explosion, the Peacock is left asking itself one simple question: Is it enough?

Led by the best ratings ever for “Frasier” and its largest aud on any night since “Seinfeld” bid farewell two years ago, NBC has rallied to take the May sweeps lead in the key advertiser demo of adults 18-49 with just four nights remaining.

But in order to claim its sixth straight May victory in the demo, it must weather some big ABC guns, including three tournament-of-champions editions of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and Michael J. Fox’s farewell on “Spin City.”

With Nielsen victories on Friday and Saturday as well, NBC holds a projected 0.3 ratings point-lead over ABC. The estimated standings: NBC (5.6/16), ABC (5.3/16), Fox (4.0/12) and CBS (3.4/10).

NBC notes that this is its best competitive standing with ABC at this point of a sweep this season. ABC was either tied with NBC or had the lead in the season’s two previous sweeps, both ABC victories.

‘Friends’ in high places

NBC was so dominant on Thursday that it topped second-place ABC by 32 shares in adults 18-49 (43 vs. 11) and by an average of nearly 16½ million viewers.

The one-hour season finale of “Friends” (30.73 million, 16.0/44 in A18-49) delivered the show’s best ratings since September 1998. Compared with a year ago, it was up 13% in viewers and 19% in adults 18-49.

The real star of the night, though, was “Frasier,” whose final Thursday original episode drew 33.7 million viewers, topping the series’ previous high (33.3 million) set on Feb. 3, 1994. In adults 18-49, its 17.0/41 was the top score by any comedy this season and was “Frasier’s” best rating since Feb. 10, 1994.

“Frasier” bested second-place “Millionaire” by 282% in adults 18-49 (17.0 vs. 5.5) and by 81% in viewers. The show, which is headed for Tuesdays in the fall, was up 16% in viewers and 12% in young adults vs. a year ago.

Although viewers were clearly interested in the travails of Niles and Daphne on “Frasier,” “Millionaire” still managed to draw more than 18 million viewers and improved ABC’s standing on the night vs. a year ago by 118% in viewers (13.5 million vs. 6.2 million) and by 54% in adults 18-49 (4.3 vs. 2.8).

Numbers to die for

Big numbers didn’t stop there.

Despite airing opposite “Frasier” and “Millionaire,” the CBS pic “Murder, She Wrote: A Story to Die For,” with Angela Lansbury reprising her Jessica Fletcher role, delivered the net’s largest aud in the 9 p.m. Thursday hour (12.75 million) in more than six months and its best women 25-54 rating (4.5) since Feb. 3.

Also, the WB’s “Charmed” conjured up its biggest aud (4.54 million) in seven weeks and a “True Lies” repeat gave Fox its best Thursday (6.77 million) in nine weeks.

All told, the six nets combined for an amazing 84 share in homes from 9:30 to 10 p.m., up from 77 a week earlier.

At 10, “ER” delivered the highest adults 18-49 rating (17.5/44) for any program during the sweep and its second best of the season (behind only Feb. 17 episode). ABC’s behind-the-scenes “Millionaire” spec placed second in adults 18-49 (4.0/10) and viewers (13.42 million vs. 34.59 million).

NBC topped ABC on Friday by an estimated 2 shares in homes and adults 18-49. The Peacock was led by a 5-share adults 18-49 win for the season finale of “Providence,” which logged its best number in the demo (prelim 4.4/16) since March 31.

Adults follow ‘Law’

And at 10, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” topped the final hour of ABC’s Daytime Emmys in adults 18-49, though the Emmys won the hour in viewers and its two-hour block in all key women demos. The ABC kudocast peaked in viewers at 10 p.m. (13.4 million), when Barbara Walters — who usually appears at that time on “20/20” — received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

For the night, ABC’s 11.4 million viewers was its best on a Friday since March 24.

A “Dukes of Hazzard” reunion pic and the season finale of “Nash Bridges” delivered CBS its best non-sports adults 18-49 on a Friday (3.3/11) since Feb. 11. The net won each half-hour in men 18-34 and also won the night in men 18-49.

Fox won Saturday in adults 18-49 (3.4), followed closely by CBS (3.1/11) and NBC (3.1/10). ABC (2.5/8) was off its mark in young adults with a quickie repeat of “Air Force One,” which also slipped to the net’s smallest Saturday pic aud (prelim 6.6 million) since Oct. 12 (“Twelve Monkeys”).

CBS won the night in total viewers with its largest Saturday gathering (11.1 million) since March 4. NBC finished second with its largest aud on the night since Feb. 5, with the preem of “The Rainmaker” (10 million).

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