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CBS shoots, but it’s ABC that scores

ABC caught an easy lob from low-rated NCAA basketball coverage and slam-dunked the competition for the March 14-20 Nielsen tournament — its second consecutive win and 11th out of 26 weeks this season.

CBS’ Winter Olympics coverage have made the seasonal race an afterthought, but the Alphabet network is clearly doing its best to end the current term with a flourish and enter the hotly contested May sweeps with some ratings momentum.

Still, momentum has been in short supply this season, with few apparent lingering benefits from the Winter Olympics and other major events that have punctuated the broadcast year. The latest question is whether ABC will enjoy any promotional bounce from its high-rated Oscar show.

While better numbers lie ahead with later rounds, CBS’ first three nights of college basketball’s March Madness didn’t exactly gocrazy from a ratings standpoint and were for the most part off from corresponding telecasts a year ago.

That should have opened the door for some of the spring’s new series, especially with female viewers, but dramas like “The Byrds of Paradise” and “Winnetka Road” were unable to capitalize on the hoops competition.

ABC did enjoy a solid advantage among adults 18-49, where the web averaged a 7.8 rating, 21 share, followed by NBC (6.3/17), CBS (6.0/16) and Fox Broadcasting Co. (5.1/14).

Sunday

CBS received stiffer-than-usual competition from two theatrical features, which helped drop Fox to its lowest household finish since Dec. 26, other than Super Bowl Sunday.

The Eye network tied from 10-10:30 p.m. with NBC’s repeat of the Steven Seagal feature “Hard to Kill” but still hasn’t lost a half-hour on Sunday since the Super Bowl. Even so, ABC easily won the night among adults 18-49 thanks largely to the second-run strength of Oscar winner “Rain Man.”

With “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” taking the week off and Fox’s sitcoms in repeat from 8-9 p.m., NBC’s “seaQuest DSV” sailed away with its best results since Jan. 16 but still reached rather modest Nielsen depths.

Saturday

ABC won the night in households for only the second time since May 29, 1993, having last achieved the feat with pre-Olympic telecast of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Jan. 8, a few days after the assault on skater Nancy Kerrigan.

Benefiting from the absence of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” ABC’s “The Commish” arrested its highest rating of the season and second-best numbers ever.

On the flip side, NBC’s “Blossom” didn’t exactly open in its first airing at 8 p.m., though it delivered the web’s best share for a sitcom in that slot since Oct. 23. That included a 25 share of teens, the show’s core audience in its regular Monday berth. Still, as a basis for comparison, the household rating was down 45% from the show’s Monday average.

Spelling’s latest ensemble drama, “Winnetka Road,” took a wrong turn for the Peacock web, skidding 8% off its premiere.

Friday

NCAA tournament coverage allowed ABC smooth sailing through the night, though all the networks posted at least minor gains in light of CBS’ less-competitive lineup.

A “Boy Meets World” repeat had its second-best lead-in retention of the season (the first-year sitcom built on “Family Matters” in its Oct. 1 airing), while NBC’s slow-rolling actioner “Viper” nabbed its best numbers since Jan. 21 and Fox’s “X-Files” unearthed its second-highest rating of the season, excluding its pre-term premiere.

CBS figures are preliminary, with the web’s final tally to be issued today.

Thursday

Facing the male-oriented hoopscast, both “Seinfeld” and “Frasier” equaled season-high shares. In addition, a repeat “Mad About You” topped an original “Simpsons”– both in terms of households and adults 18-49 — for the first time since the two started going head-to-head last fall.

The latest “Peter Jennings Reporting” special, dealing with Bosnia, bombed out at 9 p.m., delivering the Alphabet web’s lowest numbers there since the advertiser-supported “Battle of the Bands” special played a dissonant 3.7/7 last July 29. That drop came despite an 8% decrease for CBS’ early tournament game vs. the equivalent contest in ’93.

The news was somewhat better for ABC at 8 p.m., but not much. “Byrds of Paradise’s” third flight dipped another 5% in rating but held even in share. The show’s younger demos are deserting it, however, as most of its viewers (a 22 share) came from the women 50-plus demographic.

Wednesday

“Turning Point,” down just 5% from its premiere, appears to have dropped a house on “48 Hours.” The CBS newsmagazine, which has dominated the timeslot much of the year, is having a hard time competing with the ABC News show, the beneficiary of massive lead-ins from “Home Improvement” and “Grace Under Fire.”

It’s more difficult to draw any conclusions about “Thunder Alley,” which fell 13% from its premiere (off a smaller “Home Improvement” lead-in) due largely to the return of original episodes of Fox’s Wednesday dramas. The real test will come when ABC unties the show’s “Home Improvement” hammock in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday remains Fox’s best night, as “Melrose Place” continues to solidify its core audience, scoring best-ever ratings amongadults 18-49 and 18-34 — outdelivering lead-in “Beverly Hills, 90210” by those criteria for the first time since Dec. 22.

Tuesday

ABC repeats opened the door for CBS to win the night without the benefit of sports programming for only the fifth time this season, including two weeks of the Winter Olympics. By contrast, the Eye network claimed Tuesday 18 out of 30 weeks during the ’92-93 term.

That shift is due largely to ABC’s new-found 10 p.m. strength with “NYPD Blue ,” which, in repeat, equaled its lowest rating yet. Because three new episodes are being held until the May sweeps, the show will largely remain in reruns through April.

Monday

NBC’s latest all-sitcom stunt dropped CBS’ series regulars to their lowest overall rating since a repeat-laden Monday during Christmas week (Daily Variety, March 16).

The Eye web nevertheless swept all six half-hours, though NBC did get its sitcom vehicle for 11-year-old Gaby Hoffmann, “Someone Like Me,” off to a solid start, dropping just 5% off its lead-in from “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (mirroring “Blossom’s” average fall-off in that time period) and commanding a major share of teens.

ABC newshour “Day One” uncovered its highest rating since moving to Monday last June, having surpassed those results only once previously, in its second Sunday airing back on March 14, 1993. The web also shot down better-than-average movie numbers with a new “Spenser: For Hire” telepic.

Each rating point represents an estimated 942,000 households, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. The share is the same sort of percentage, except that it’s measured against only the households in which TV is being watched during the timeslot involved.

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