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NEW YORK — Powered by a pair of theatricals and a sharp Tuesday performance, NBC retained the ratings crown for the second consecutive week, easily winning Nielsen’s Dec. 15-21 pre-holiday frame in both homes and demos.

In a week peppered with holiday specials that underperformed most series averages, ABC took second place in homes, demos and total viewers. CBS came in third in homes and viewers, but set a new Big Three low in the 18-to-49 demo, mustering just a 3.3 rating and 9 share among that set. Preemptions and lame-duck series burnoffs hurt Fox’s averages, and only NBC showed improvement vs. the same week last season, as movies on both Friday and Saturday nights easily beat regular series fare.

Last week’s 18-to-49 averages were NBC, with a 6.9/20, was up 3% vs. year-ago figures; ABC, with a 4.9/14, was down 8%; Fox’s 4.2/12 was off 11%; and CBS’ 3.3/9 plummeted 23%.

The WB narrowly beat rival weblet UPN for the third time in four weeks in households, with a 2.8/4 to UPN’s 2.7/4, and tied it among 18-to-34 adults with a 1.6/4. Season-to-date in households, WB is behind by just a tenth of a point; last year UPN led by six-tenths of a point.


ABC won Dec. 22 as the year’s finale of “Monday Night Football” (New England Patriots-Miami Dolphins) turned in a 15.3 rating and a 27 share, enough to win easily among homes, adults and even women demos by a comfortable margin.

Elsewhere, amid lower viewing levels, NBC’s sitcom block helped it beat CBS in homes and demos. Despite a close race in households from 8 to 10 p.m. and “Dateline NBC’s” lowest-ever rating on the night (9.3/16), CBS’ “Life Magazine Christmas Special” eked out a bare 5.4/9 at 10, and, paired with football, a rerun of ABC’s “Peter Jennings Reporting” managed a 5.9/10.

Fox’s “Melrose Place” also scored its lowest-ever rating for an original, with a 6.1/10 in homes, but still won the top spot among young adults, both women and men. “Fired Up’s” special airing in the 9:30 slot (6.9/11) also was its lowest yet. And a “Jenny” spesh at 8:30 (6.5/11) didn’t fare much better, tying its “Suddenly Susan” lead-in and losing a share point among young adults.


CBS won the night in households but Fox claimed victory in all adult demos, powered by “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill” and an “X-Files” rerun; “King” was the web’s top-rated show for the week.

Among the three competing movies, CBS again took the top spot in homes with “A Christmas Memory,” while ABC won the 18-to-49 crown with “Junior.” But the Alphabet’s “Wonderful World of Disney” franchise scored its lowest rating to date in homes with a 5.9/10 for “Flash.”

The shift of “Dateline NBC” to a later time slot (it followed an NFL overrun from 7:24 to 8:30 in most markets) provided its highest Sunday number to date with a 9.1/16, and easily beat the overlapping “60 Minutes” on CBS in the 25-to-54 demo.


The fourth run of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on NBC, following umpteen airings in the public domain, scored an 8.5/15 and an impressive 20 share of the 18-to-49 demo, its best showing since NBC’s first run of the holiday-themed theatrical in 1994.

CBS’ drama lineup scored average returns but narrowly lost the night in homes to NBC, which easily outperformed its “Thrillogy” drama season average. Specials on ABC and Fox tanked. ABC’s “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: A Concert on Ice” and “Disney’s Christmas Fantasy on Ice” delivered seven household shares, a point below the canceled “C-16” and “Total Security” that occupied their timeslots. Fox’s own skating special also disappointed with a 4.1/8.


NBC’s fifth run of the original “Home Alone” theatrical, formerly a Thanksgiving night staple, scored its lowest rating yet, a 9.8/18, but again easily beat averages of “Players” and “Dateline” in the timeslot and was good enough to win the night in both homes and demos, despite third-place numbers for the annual “Christmas in Washington” spesh.

CBS’ “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” did a 5.8/11, subpar for the time period, while ABC again led with teens and kids and finished second in young adults and homes, despite a “20/20” installment that was five points off its season average.

Fox didn’t do much damage with lame-duck “The Visitor” and an original “Millennium.”


Like much of the week, TV’s biggest night proved lackluster. NBC, of course, easily won the night with an 18.2/30, and “Seinfeld” and “ER” turned in 43 and 45 shares of the 18-to-49 crowd. But “Friends” (15.2/26 in homes) earned its lowest rating for an original episode since the same week in 1994 (13.6), leading “Union Square,” despite its second-lowest rating, to its best lead-in retention in demos.

“Veronica’s Closet,” which had improved its lead-in retention in the prior week, fell off sharply with a 16.8/28, its worst showing yet, dropping five household shares from “Seinfeld” and eight shares in the 18-to-49 demo. “ER” outperformed its season average with a 22.0/37.

Elsewhere, ABC’s “Nothing Sacred” and “Cracker,” soon to move to Saturdays, fared poorly, with “Cracker” mustering a 3.3/5 and a 4 share of the young-adult demo, while “20/20” — shifting to Mondays next month — lost to “48 Hours” in the resumption of their head-to-head battle.

Fox had another uninspired night as lame ducks “Living Single” and “413 Hope St.” — both leaving the sked on Jan. 1 — contributed to a fourth-place finish in homes and third in demos. In light of its non-NBC competition, CBS’ old-skewing “Diagnosis Murder” came in a respectable second among young adults.


ABC handily won its strongest night against weaker than average competition from CBS, NBC and Fox. “Dharma & Greg” and “Drew Carey” managed 20 and 26 shares of their young-adult targets, respectively, although “Ellen” lost eight shares from the “Drew” lead-in.

Absent the surging “Party of Five” (preempted for a “Greatest Christmas Moments” special), Fox had its lowest Wednesday of the season for originals. NBC’s “Working” (8.2/13) actually improved on its “3rd Rock From the Sun” lead-in (7.6/12) at 9:30 and added three share points with young adults. The original “3rd Rock,” opposite “Carey,” underperformed a “3rd Rock” rerun at 8. A one-time showing of “Men Behaving Badly” came in worse than its weak Sunday number with a 5.7/9. CBS’ “Chicago Hope” came in third in homes but tied “Primetime Live” for second place among young adults.


In contrast to Wednesday’s strength, ABC continues to falter on this night, turning in its lowest overall Tuesday average on record (9.8/17) with original programming. Still enough for second place, it faced newly formidable competition from NBC on the night, as a commercial-free baby-crying stunt episode of “Mad About You” managed a 12.3/21 — its best number since the cliffhanger-resolving season premiere —earning a 24 share among young adults. “Newsradio,” “Frasier” and “Just Shoot Me” all beat their season averages, with “Newsradio” the weak spot in both homes and demos.

At ABC, “Hiller and Diller’s” 7.6/12 was the sitcom’s worst showing yet; the show has now been yanked from the schedule.

CBS’ “Michael Hayes” (6.2/10) and “Dellaventura” (5.6/10) also turned in their worst numbers yet as the latter crime drama moved back from Thursdays after a short-lived switch.


Aside from “Monday Night Football’s” best numbers on ABC (18.0/31) since Nov. 18, 1996, Fox boasted that freshman drama “Ally McBeal” improved on its “Melrose Place” lead-in among young adults for the first time, and tied it in households.

Each household rating point represents an estimated 980,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.23 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. A share is the same sort of percentge, except it measures only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.