While ABC was earning Super Bowl-caliber ratings with Oprah Winfrey’s live Michael Jackson interview, CBS was winning the prime time Nielsens week with the first chapter of Alex Haley’s “Queen,” the highest-rated film on any network in more than three years.
“Queen’s” 24.7 rating, 38 share tops every net vidpic, theatrical film or chapter of a multiparter presented since the 25.2/39 for “Small Sacrifices, Part 2,” back on Nov. 14, 1989.
That was enough to crown CBS winner of the Feb. 8-14 prime time Nielsen week despite the colossal Wednesday numbers attracted by ABC’s Jackson-Winfrey special. That live program stepped out to a 39.3/56, repping the best rating for any non-Super Bowl telecast since the ABC telefilm “The Day After” exploded to a 46.0/62 on Nov. 20, 1983 (Daily Variety, Feb. 12).
Normally that kind of boost would just about guarantee a weeklong victory for a competitive network, but last week CBS stayed in the race with Tuesday and Saturday wins and then snuck ahead of ABC for the week when “Queen” propelled the Eye Web to its highest Sunday rating without benefit of a major sports event in four years, since Feb. 5, 1989 (“Lonesome Dove”).
The second “Queen” installment, which aired Tuesday of the current week, didn’t quite equal Sunday’s numbers, but its 24.1/37 was still CBS’ best figures for a Tuesday film since “Lonesome Dove, Part 3” lassoed a 24.8/37 on Feb. 7, 1989. “Queen” also led to CBS’ strongest Tuesday nightlong rating since Oct. 7, 1986.
That gives CBS a huge advantage in the Nielsen race for the current week, since the net’s regular lineup also won Monday, Feb. 15. “Northern Exposure” (17 .5/28) tied its second-highest rating of the season. NBC was second Feb. 15, led by a record rating for “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (18.4/27). With “Queen” ruling the February sweeps so far, CBS is well ahead at the halfway point of the four-week Arbitron period. Through Tuesday those standings are: CBS, 14.6/23; ABC, 13.2/21; NBC, 11.4/18; Fox Broadcasting Co., 8.0/12. Thirteen nights into the 28-night Nielsen period, it’s CBS, 14.9/24; ABC, 13.0/21; NBC, 11.3/18; and Fox, 7.9/12.
Figures for adult viewers aged 18-49 tell a different story.
Through last Sunday, the sweeps standings in that breakout were: ABC, 8.1/20; CBS and NBC, 7.1/17 each; and Fox, 6.0/15. For last week, the adults 18-49 results were: ABC, 8.7/21; CBS, 7.6/19; NBC, 6.8/17; and Fox, 5.8/14.
CBS’ Feb. 8-14 weeklong win wasn’t secured until the opening episode of “Queen” tossed the Sunday competition into the dungeon. The Alex Haley tale earned CBS’ top Sunday 9-11 p.m. non-sports rating since “Sarah, Plain and Tall” on Feb. 3, 1991.
Saturday now seems to belong to CBS in households and Fox in adults 18-49. NBC is history on the night, though its switch of “Mad About You” to the 9:30 half-hour has clicked. Less successful for the Peacock are the 8-9 p.m. fourth-placers “Almost Home” and “Nurses.”
Stretching CBS’ Saturday lead last week was the Dick Van Dyke-Suzanne Pleshette vidpic “A Twist of the Knife,” which sliced to CBS’ highest non-sports rating in that slot since Jan. 4, 1991 (“White Fang” and “P.S.I. Luv U”).
Friday remained in ABC’s column, while NBC plunged to fourth for the night by trying “Out All Night” and “Rhythm and Blues” in the 8-9 p.m. hour. Both immediately feel deep below their previous worst-ever scores and have been yanked for the remainder of the sweeps (see related story). Up against that weak competition, Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted” set a second straight timeslot record and Fox hunted down its second-best Friday rating ever. With NBC giving “Perry Mason” the night off, CBS also recovered to secure its highest Friday regular-programming rating since premiere week.
Thursday was grabbed by NBC’s revamped lineup for a second straight week, marking the first time NBC has won two Thursdays in a row since Oct. 1 and 8. It was also NBC’s highest non-Olympics Thursday rating since last May 14, 1992.
Especially encouraging for the Peacock was its steady climb in share every half-hour from 8-10 p.m., most impressively by “Seinfeld” at 9:30. It’s the first time a Thursday 9:30 sitcom has improved on its “Cheers” lead-in share since Sept. 3, 1987 (when “Night Court” turned a 32 lead-in into a 33).
NBC says no show has built on a “Cheers” firstrun share in that slot since Dec. 16, 1982. It was the highest “Seinfeld” rating ever.
Fox continues to score big on Thursdays, last week getting a second straight series-record rating out of the current “Martin” stunt, as well as the second-best “The Simpsons” rating since Feb. 21, 1991.
A two-hour “Knots Landing” lathered up that soap’s best rating since its Oct. 29 season premiere.
Wednesday was conquered by ABC’s Oprah Winfrey-Michael Jackson spec, which attracted an average audience of 36.5 million households, the fourth-highest total recorded by an entertainment program since 1960. The spec’s rating falls far lower down on that list, since the number of TV households has steadily increased since 1960.
An estimated 90 million viewers watched at least some of the spec, which grabbed a 70 share among women 18-49 and a 67 among teens. That excitement helped boost the Winfrey-Jackson lead-in, “Home Improvement,” to its fourth record rating in the last six weeks.
Earlier in the evening, CBS’ “Andy Griffith Show Reunion” equaled the web’s best share that hour in eight weeks.
NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” got killed by the Michael Jackson competition, barely outscoring Fox’s “Melrose Place” for the hour.
Tuesday fell once again to CBS, this time even among adults 18-49. ABC has now won just one of the last eight Tuesdays, after having taken 10 of 13 before the current slide began Dec. 22.
ABC continues to have trouble exploiting the powerful “Roseanne” rating in the middle of that lineup. Last week, against CBS’ tough “I Can Make You Love Me” telefilm, ABC’s “The Jackie Thomas Show” held just 64% of its lead-in from “Roseanne,” turning an 11-share lead-in advantage into a 3-share timeslot loss.
CBS won the night with its best regular-schedule Tuesday rating of the season. “Rescue 911” equaled its highest rating since Feb. 26, 1991, and “Make You Love Me” scored CBS’ third-best Tuesday-pic rating of the season.
Fox is sinking fast on Tuesdays, losing another 14% of its rating last week vs. the previous week.
Monday, Feb. 8, fell to NBC’s Danielle Steel vidpic “Heartbeat,” NBC’s second-highest-rated telefilm of the season so far (Daily Variety, Feb. 10). “Blossom” pitched in with its best regular-slot rating ever.