Winning a sweeps race, like winning the season-long battle, often depends as much on the nights you lose as on the nights you win.
That helps explain why CBS won nine nights during the February sweeps but finished third overall, and NBC, which also earned nine triumphs, was the period’s ultimate victor. ABC, which finished a close second for the month, won the other 10 nights.
Peacock 20% better
NBC’s 12.6 rating and 20 share for the period was an improvement of 20 percent over last year; ABC’s 12.1/19 was up 6 percent over February 1994; and CBS’s 11.7/19 was off by a whopping 47 percent from the previous February.
While size of CBS’s drop can be written off – last year the web had the Winter Olympics, featuring Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding – its overall poor performance is an indication of how weak the network’s schedule really is.
In short, the Eye web had a dismal record on the nights it wasn’t winning. CBS turned in only seven second-place finishes, along with 10 thirds and two fourth-place finishes. Additionally, two of the nights the web claimed third, it actually finished fourth in head-to-head competition with Fox, boosting its final numbers from 10 p.m.-11p.m.
By contrast, NBC had 10 second place finishes (one a tie with ABC) and eight thirds, with only one evening in the cellar (though it, too, had two other nights where it lost to Fox head-to-head). ABC was the most consistent of all, compiling 10 firsts, 12 seconds (including that tie) and only seven thirds.
Unfortunately for ABC, the nights that NBC won, it won big, thanks to the Peacock Web’s Thursday lineup, which has regained its 1980’s status as the most popular night of television. The Feb. 24 episode of “ER” even snared a 40 share, a figure that hasn’t been seen much for regular series in the 1990’s.
In addition, NBC also benefited from that old sweeps staple, the multiparter: “A Woman of Independent Means” scored a 17.8/27,16.6/25 and 15.3/25 on its three nights, giving the web wins it usually wouldn’t get on a Monday and Wednesday; “Tom Clancy’s Op Center” snagged a 15.8/25 and 15.8/24, with the second night leading NBC to another Monday win. NBC also did the best job of plugging its weakest spots with second-tier specials and repeats of popular series like “Mad About You” or “Frasier” – had CBS used the same technique, it might have turned some of those thirds into seconds and turned the sweeps into a three-way race.
Fox, which can’t compete for the first place overall since it runs seven fewer hours a week of programming, nonetheless had a strong sweeps, earning an 8.1/13, up 5 percent from last February. That’s the highest figure Fox has fashioned in the seven sweeps periods since it went to seven nights. (Fox also earned its highest figure ever in the adults 18-49 category, although that number is the subject of a mini-controversy. See Demo Derby, page 80.)