ABC on longest streak since 'Happy Days' era

These are indeed happy days again at ABC.

With three episodes of quizzer “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and two installments of “20/20″ ranking as last week’s five most-watched programs, the Alphabet web has claimed its 12th straight ratings victory in total viewers.

According to Nielsen, ABC also placed seven shows among the week’s top 10, while CBS, NBC and Fox were represented by one each.

ABC last won 12 straight weeks in the 1994-95 season and is poised in upcoming weeks to at least match its 1978-79 high of 14 weeks — when the net was led by “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley” and “Three’s Company.”

Winning a 15th straight week may prove more challenging as it faces a CBS schedule in the week ending April 9 that includes the NCAA basketball champi-onship and other high-profile programming.

ABC also won among adults 18-49 for the fourth straight week, topping NBC by 3 shares and Fox and CBS by 4 shares. “Millionaire” held down the week’s top three slots in the key demo, led by Sunday’s installment (9.4/21).

Newsmag “20/20″ had an exceptional week, with its Thursday and Friday editions posting their highest ratings of the season. Friday’s edition, which devoted the entire hour to an interview with the parents of JonBenet Ramsey, drew the highest Nielsens for any “20/20″ this season (19.63 million viewers, 6.9/21 in adults 18-49) and the best numbers for a Friday “20/20″ since May 1997.

CBS’ coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament got off to a strong start, with a batch of buzzer-beaters and bracket-busters contributing to the best over-night ratings for the first two rounds (5.7/12) since 1994 (5.9/14). It also helped the Eye net place second for the week in men 25-54, trailing only ABC.

CBS is also positioned well for strong ratings when action resumes on Thursday and Friday. Remaining teams include traditional powerhouses like Duke and North Carolina and others that are in or near some of the nation’s top markets — Syracuse (New York), UCLA (Los Angeles), Purdue (Chicago) and Michigan State (Detroit).

March 13-19 adults 18-49 averages were: ABC, a 5.2 rating, 15 share (up in rating by 27% vs. year-ago results); NBC, 4.3/12 (down 19%); Fox, 4.1/11 (down 2%); CBS, 3.7/11 (down 10%); UPN, 1.6/4 (up 60%); the WB, 1.2/3 (down 33%); and Pax, 0.3/1 (even).

In households, the averages were: ABC, 9.4/16 (up 25%); CBS, 7.9/13 (down 10%), tied with NBC, 7.9/13 (down 11%); Fox, 5.7/9 (down 2%); UPN, 2.6/4 (up 37%); the WB, 2.2/3 (down 33%); and Pax, 0.9/1 (up 12%).

National ratings for the top cable services were: HBO, 1.2/3 (even); USA, 1.1/3 (up 10%); TBS, 1.0/3 (up 11%); Discovery Channel, 0.7/2 (up 75%), tied with TNT, 0.7/2 (even).

Monday

Fox laffer “Titus” had a titanic bow on March 20, winning its 8:30 half-hour in total viewers and more than doubling the second-place finisher in adults 18-49. (See separate story.)

Sunday

Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” (16.29 million, 8.3/20 in adults 18-49) improved by 11% on its “Simpsons” adults 18-49 lead-in, its best gain since the 21% build for its second episode in January. The big score helped the net tie ABC for the night’s lead in adults 18-49.

Although ABC again won the night in total viewers, CBS edged ahead in homes for the fourth straight Sunday. “Millionaire” paced ABC despite drawing its smallest Sunday audience (26.92 million) since it began airing as a series in January. The quizzer still topped Fox’s “The X-Files” by 5 shares in adults 18-49.

ABC’s “The Practice” continues to thrive in the post-”Millionaire” slot. Last week, the third airing of a two-year-old episode won its hour by 6 shares in adults 18-49. Compared with its first airing in March 1998, the episode saw gains of 60% in total viewers (17.3 million vs. 10.8 million) and 59% in adults 18-49 (7.0/18 vs. 4.4/11).

The WB’s “Jack and Jill” (2.48 million, 1.2/3 in adults 18-49) found itself up a ratings hill for its season finale, dropping to its lowest total-viewer mark for an original episode since January.

Saturday

Fox won among total viewers on a Saturday for the first time this season, with a repeat episode of “Cops” at 8:30 emerging as the night’s most-watched show (10.22 million).

The network premiere of “White Squall” (prelim 7.47 million, 2.3/7 in A18-49) was all wet, drawing ABC’s lowest Saturday-pic ratings of the season.

Second-round action of the NCAA tourney lifted CBS to second in both homes and adults 18-49.

At 10 p.m., NBC’s “Profiler” retained all of its adults 18-49 lead-in from “The Others,” placing first for the hour with a 3.3/10.

Friday

Fox’s young, male-skewing lineup took a major hit opposite college basketball on CBS. One week after winning the night in adults 18-49, the net slipped to fourth behind season-low marks for both “World’s Wildest Police Videos” (7.22 million, 3.2/11 in adults 18-49) and “Greed” (9.02 million, 3.1/10).

Female-skewing shows like NBC’s “Providence” and ABC’s “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “20/20″ fared better, each winning its timeslot in adults 18-49. For “Sabrina,” it was the first time since Nov. 12 that it had won its 9 p.m. half-hour in the key demo.

The “20/20″ interview with the Ramseys fared best among women 25-54 (10.1/30) and women 18-49 (8.8/26).

Thursday

The absence of an original “ER” for the third straight week helped ABC’s “20/20 — Downtown” log its best delivery yet in both total viewers (18.27 million) and adults 18-49 (6.3/18) and lift the network to its third consecutive Thursday victory among total viewers. ABC also closed to within two-tenths of a ratings point of NBC in adults 18-49 (6.9 vs. 6.7), its most competitive finish of the season with entertainment programming.

College basketball on CBS placed third for the night in adults 18-49 (3.4/10) with the net’s best Thursday rating in the demo since November.

UPN’s “WWF Smackdown!” continues to be a young-male magnet, winning for the 30th straight week among male teens. But last week it also posted the netlet’s best-ever Thursday rating among women 18-34 (2.8/8).

Wednesday

ABC won the night in adults 18-49 while NBC shot ahead in homes and total viewers.

The Alphabet net’s “Norm” made a strong impression in its final outing before making room for midseason laffer “Then Came You.” An original episode of “Norm” (9.04 million, 4.2/13 in adults 18-49) built on its lead-in from “Two Guys and a Girl” (albeit in repeat) for just the second time this season, helping its renewal chances.

NBC’s durable “Law & Order” (15.84 million, 6.0/18 in adults 18-49) laid down its best repeat numbers of the season and topped ABC’s “20/20″ by 5 shares in adults 18-49.

Tuesday

Fox’s “Family Guy” and NBC’s “God, the Devil and Bob” squared off in a rare battle of cartoon comedies, with “Family” topping “God” by 18% in adults 18-49 and by 35% in adults 18-34. Among teens, “Family” held a 42% advantage over “God” and even topped ABC’s “Millionaire” by 1 share (Daily Variety, March 16).

CBS’ “60 Minutes II” posted its best homes rating (10.0/16) in 10 weeks.

Monday

Fox won March 13 in adults 18-49 with an all-repeat lineup, including a special “Malcolm in the Middle” at 8:30. ABC and CBS finished just 1 share back, with the Eye net winning in homes.

Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.24 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. The share is also a percentage, but measured against only the viewers watching TV during the slot involved.

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