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Sweeping good news for CBS, Fox

Fox Broadcasting Co. closed out the February sweeps on a high note, “Tom” got off to an OK start and ABC’s final installment of “Heaven and Hell” went down in flames, according to Nielsen results for Wednesday.

That opened the door for CBS to put an appropriate capper on the February survey by winning a Wednesday without the benefit of sports programming (either baseball or the Winter Olympics) for only the second time this season.

Final sweeps averages show CBS with a 22.0 rating/34 share, narrowly topping the combined results of ABC (11.4/17, down 12% from a year ago) and NBC (10.5/16 , off 8%).

By contrast, CBS was up 46% over February 1993 and 20% compared to ’92, when the web last aired the Winter Olympics. The Big Three tally was also up an impressive 11% over last February, and the aggregate 43.9 rating (with a 67 share) represented the highest three-network sweeps total since February 1988, when ABC broadcast the Winter Olympics.

The webs also wooed back 11% of the elusive adults 18-49 demographic during the sweep, even if most of them were tuned in to the Olympics. Final averages by that standard were CBS, 12.4/30; ABC, 6.8/16; NBC, 6.5/16; Fox, 5.5/13.

Fox averaged a 7.7/11 during the sweeps, down 7% from a year ago, and closed the book in fine fashion, garnering season-high ratings for the 100th episode of “Beverly Hills, 90210” (13.3/20) and best-ever numbers for “Melrose Place” (11.7 /17). Fox averaged 23 and 33 shares, respectively, with adults 18-49 and 18-34 during those two hours, winning the night by that standard.

Part of the “Melrose” success can be attributed to the absence of “Home Improvement,” which aired at 8 p.m. to make room for “Heaven and Hell.” The “North & South” sequel finished with a 9.9/15 over three nights and ranks as the second disaster on the multi-parter front for ABC in consecutive sweeps periods. The four-hour “JFK: Reckless Youth” delivered just an 8.6/14 in November.

CBS’ Tom Arnold vehicle “Tom” premiered with an 11.1/16, improving on the web’s average in that slot. The sledding figures to be tougher in the coming weeks, however, with “Thunder Alley” to fill the breach starting next week, sandwiched between “Home Improvement” episodes.

Viewers headed for the aisle at the sight of ABC’s “The Critic,” which yielded 44% of its “Improvement” lead-in.

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