Gold-standard newsmag, 'Angel' share blame

HOLLYWOOD — “60 Minutes” no longer ranks among the top 10 shows on television, but it may be the least of the Eye net’s Sunday woes.

Once the most dominant night of primetime, CBS’ Sunday has taken a ratings hit in recent seasons, with the sharpest drop-offs coming this year. ABC’s tough “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” has certainly affected the net’s movie, but venerable drama “Touched by an Angel” and Sunday institution “60 Minutes” are also to blame for the meltdown.

CBS is still a force to be reckoned with in total viewers on Sunday — usually battling ABC for the lead — but gone are the days when it would routinely double the ratings of its closest competitor.

According to Nielsen figures for this season (excepting the Sunday night that CBS broadcast the Super Bowl in January), the net is down year-to-year on the night by about 20% in total viewers and key demos.

In the Eye’s target demo of adults 25-54, the movie is down 22% year-to-year (4.6/10 vs. 5.9/13), “Angel” has descended by 19% (4.8/10 vs. 5.9/13), and “60 Minutes” — whose decline has been more gradual — is off by 6% (5.1/13 vs. 5.4/14).

Even more damning evidence of the night’s decline is found in each program’s rankings. In total viewers, “Touched” has fallen from No. 7 two years ago to No. 9 last season and to its current No. 23 (14.1 million); the movie has gone from No. 10 to No. 15 to No. 36 (12.2 million).

And, while still the most-watched newsmag in primetime, “60 Minutes” has slipped from No. 8 to No. 10 to No. 16 (16.1 million) — the first time in 24 seasons that it won’t finish in the top 10.

Strongest recent year for the Eye on Sunday came in 1992-93 — when “60 Minutes” was No. 1, 8 p.m. drama “Murder, She Wrote” No. 5 and the “CBS Sunday Movie” No. 8 — but on three other occasions since, the net’s Sunday trio ranked in the season’s top 15.

One reason for the “60 Minutes” decline has been its inability to attract young viewers. While never a big draw with viewers under 50 anyway, recent years have seen more sports overruns as well as comedies and movies chip away at “60’s” young aud, leaving it with an older makeup than ever before.

Younger auds have turned out for some profiles over the past year or so — pieces on Charles Schulz and Tom Hanks resulted in ratings bumps — but they’re just as likely to reject stories on the Ukrainian president and fox-hunting in Britain. The night these stories aired on “60 Minutes” (April 29) resulted in its lowest-ever in-season demo scores.

It’s difficult to tell what effect a gradually weaker “60 Minutes” has had on “Touched” and the movie, but it appears the entire night has grown tired.

Net’s Sunday movies have been tagged as too similar in themes and featuring too many of the same stars. (In the past few years, Maureen O’Hara, Della Reese and Louis Gossett Jr. are among a sizable group of actors to topline at least three of the net’s typically uplifting Sunday movies.)

Sure enough, when the net mixed it up with some strong theatricals this spring (“Deep Impact,” “Tomorrow Never Dies”), the ratings improved.

Of course, these pics probably would have fared even better if “Touched by an Angel” were performing up to its levels of recent years.

One of the biggest CBS hits of the past decade, “Angel” peaked in 1999 but has tailed off quickly since. Most industry insiders would be surprised if “Angel” wasn’t moved out of the high-profile (and high-pressure) Sunday slot next fall.

Fortunately for the Eye, other nights — most notably the “Survivor”-led Thursday — have picked up the ratings slack. But it just seems like something’s out of whack in the TV universe when CBS isn’t a dominant force on Sunday.

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