Trial Coverage Crimps Syndies

O.J. Simpson trial coverage sent the syndication pack reeling in what corresponds to the first full week of the February sweeps.

The real-life soap opera, which researchers say has gripped the nation’s attention like nothing else in TV history, resulted in huge year-to-year losses for most syndicated shows as viewers flocked to cable.

With the networks cutting in and out of the trial, CNN, Court TV and E! Entertainment TV prospered from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. with their live trial coverage. Cable’s share of the daytime TV audience jumped 10 share points over last year in January and February, with CNN the biggest beneficiary.

But the impact of the Simpson coverage extended into other critical dayparts.

Nielsen’s national barter rankings for the week ended Feb. 12 show that every veteran strip in the top 10 suffered double-digit losses.

King World’s top-rated “Wheel of Fortune” plunged 16% to 14.4 from its year-ago mark of 17.2, while “Jeopardy!” tumbled 20% to 11.7 from 14.6.

In the magazine genre, Paramount’s top-rated “Entertainment Tonight” tumbled 17% to 8.2 from last year’s 9.9.

KW’s tabloid magazine “Inside Edition” crumbled 22% to 6.7, putting it into a household tie with Par’s “Hard Copy,” which sank 18% from last year.

“A Current Affair,” which has been pushed out of access in Los Angeles by KNBC-TV’s Simpson wrapup special at 7:30 p.m. weeknights, dived 30% to 5.3 from a 7.6 a year ago.

KW’s “American Journal” stumbled to a 4.2, down 19% from last year’s 5.2.

The daytime and early fringe chat pack was generally a disaster, but there were a few notable exceptions.

Warner Bros.’ “Jenny Jones” surged a whopping 50% to 4.8 from 3.2, while Columbia TriStar’s “Ricki Lake” leaped 41% to 5.5 from 3.9.

The only other big gainer was Multimedia’s “Jerry Springer,” with the talker jumping 22% to 3.3 from 2.7 – good timing now that Multimedia has put itself up for sale.

Elsewhere, the picture was grim. KW’s top-rated “Oprah Winfrey” (after experiencing declines in previous sweeps this season) collapsed 26% from last year to 9.2.

Multimedia’s “Donahue” posted the worst year-to-year drop of any talkshow, sinking 33% to 3.6 from 5.4.

Other talkers getting whacked with double-digit declines were “Donahue” stablemate “Sally Jessy Raphael,” which fell 20% to 4.8 from 6.0, and Par’s “Maury Povich,” down 12% to 4.4.

Conservatively speaking, Multimedia’s “Rush Limbaugh” – cleared in access and latenight slots – retreated 10% to 3.7.

Turning to returning off-net sitcoms, Carsey-Werner’s “Roseanne” deflated 20% to 7.1 from last year’s fat 8.9; Col’s “Married … With Children” skidded 14% to 6.2 from 7.2; Warner Bros.’ “Family Matters” fizzled 4% to 6.4; and Buena Vista TV’s “Empty Nest” dropped 21% to 1.5.

In the week-to-week race, Twentieth TV’s “The Simpsons” matched its best performance of the season with a 6.7, up 3% from the previous week. It finished first among new strips in the key adult demos.

Par’s “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” remained the top weekly, but descended 12% to 8.2 from the year-ago rating of 9.3.

All American’s “Baywatch” wasn’t far behind with a 7.9, even with its score last year.

Cannell’s “Renegade” dropped 7% to 5.0; WB’s “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues” slipped 4% to 5.0 and its “Babylon 5” sagged 22% to 4.6. Rysher’s “The Highlander” held its ground with a 4.1.

New Line’s “Court TV: Inside America’s Courts,” a strip candidate for next season, plunged 34% – the worst loss of any major weekly – to 1.9.

On a week-to-week basis, MCA TV’s new action hour “Vanishing Son” continued its upward march, climbing to 5.1 from 4.8 in its previous outing and a 4.5 premiere mark.

But MCA’s new “Legendary Journeys of Hercules” headed south, dropping to a 5.7 after 6.6 and 6 marks, respectively, in its first two weeks.

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