Sitcoms lead syndie sweep

Hot off-net comedies spell trouble for magazines

Once again, entertainment dish and tabmag flash proved no match for reruns of “Seinfeld,” “Home Improvement” and “The Simpsons” in a May sweep.

Petry Television’s just-released analysis of national Nielsen ratings for syndie strips points to “overcrowding” in the firstrun magazine field as one factor behind declining ratings for “Entertainment Tonight,” “Inside Edition,” “Extra” and other magazines airing against hot off-network fare in lucrative access timeslots.

Of the three primary sweep periods each year (February, May and November), the May book is particularly crucial for syndicated shows because it is the longest period used to determine local advertising rates.

Off-network sitcoms’ share of the access pie in key demographic categories dwarfed the showing by even the leading syndie magazine show, Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight.” Columbia TriStar’s “Seinfeld” pulled ahead of Buena Vista’s “Home Improvement” in access and early fringe in all key demos except for teens. However, Twentieth Television’s “The Simpsons” remained the undisputed favorite of adolescents in both dayparts.

In contrast to the magazine genre’s woes, the May book had a happy ending for most veteran talkshows. As usual, “Oprah Winfrey” led the yak pack by a wide margin, but the real May success story belonged to “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.” In her first May sweep, “Rosie O’Donnell” easily doubled her May ’96 time period averages to take first place in daytime. In early fringe, “Rosie” boasted a bigger share of the female 18-34 and 18-49 audience than any talker aside from “Oprah.”

In the gameshow arena, “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” staunched the erosion in access that had some industry observers questioning the future of King World’s powerhouse access block at this time last year. After losing ground in household and demo ratings in May ’96, both gameshows rebounded last month in key young adult demos and held steady in households with a 28 and 24 share, respectively.

Freshman firstrun strips “Real TV” and “Judge Judy” showed promise in the May sweeps. Par’s “Real TV” had its best showing in late fringe, where its 1.7/8 average was enough to notch across-the-board time period gains in year-to-year comparisons. Worldvision Enterprises’ “Judge Judy” boosted its year-ago household and female demo timeslot averages in daytime and early fringe. Both “Real TV” and “Judge Judy” are due for timeslot and station upgrades this fall.

Two other firstrun rookies fell short of May ’96 time period averages, but nonetheless are expected to return for a second season. Rysher Entertainment/United Television’s late fringe news-of-the-weird strip “Strange Universe” pulled in a 1.4/4 household average. Columbia TriStar Television Distribution’s “Dating Game” and “Newlywed Game” did best in late fringe with a 1.3/8 in households.

In daytime, Buena Vista’s “Live with Regis & Kathie Lee” came in second to “Rosie O’Donnell” with a 4.6/22, despite across-the-board declines in households and key demos. Par’s “Maury Povich” ranked third in daytime with a 3.4/14, followed by Universal’s “Sally Jessy Raphael” (3.2/15), Warner Bros.’ “Jenny Jones” (3.0/11), U’s “Jerry Springer” (2.9/11), and Par’s “Montel Williams” (2.5/13), all of which posted year-to-year gains in female demos. Trending downward from year-ago averages were Tribune’s “Geraldo Rivera” (2.3/10), U’s “Crook & Chase” (1.7/9) and Warner Bros.’ “In Person with Maureen O’Boyle” (1.7/5).

“Oprah Winfrey” dominated early fringe with a 8.7/26, compared with last year’s 8.4/27. “Sally Jessy Raphael” enjoyed a surge in early fringe from a 4.4/14 in households in May ’96 to a 5.3/16. “Sally” also saw growth in all female demos. “Montel Williams” was mostly flat year-to-year with a 4.8/17, followed closely by “Maury Povich” with a 4.6/18.

“Rosie O’Donnell” scored a 4.6/17 in households in early fringe, but her demo ratings and shares topped all talk competitors except “Oprah.” With a 3.6/12, “Jenny Jones” stayed mostly on par with May ’96. Columbia TriStar’s “Ricki Lake” garnered a 3.5/11 and saw an uptick over year-ago averages in women 18-34 and women 18-49. “Geraldo” fared better in early fringe than daytime with a 2.7/9 household rating.

“Jerry Springer” sprung ahead of “Ricki Lake” to take first place in late fringe with a 2.6/15 household rating. “Jenny Jones” and “Ricki Lake” were neck-and-neck in late fringe with a 2.6/11 and 2.5/11, respectively.

Just one-tenth of a ratings point separated “Seinfeld” from “Home Improvement” in access timeslots in their first syndie May sweeps last year. This year, “Seinfeld” widened the gap by scoring a 7.4/13 in access, compared with “Home Improvement’s” 6.9/14. “The Simpsons” came in third in access with a 4.7/9.

After a slow start in syndication this fall, Columbia TriStar’s “Mad About You” picked up in May, posting growth in female demos in early fringe, access and late fringe. Warner Bros.’ “Martin” had a strong showing in access in its first May sweep with a 4.2/8, but WB’s other fall ’96 off-net launch, “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” fell below expectations in early fringe with a 2.6/5.

Among the magazines, King World’s “Inside Edition” edged out “Entertainment Tonight” in access with a 6.1/13 and 6.0/11, respectively. Warner Bros.’ “Extra” ranked third in access with a 5.1/19, followed by Par’s “Hard Copy” (4.5/9) and Twentieth’s “Access Hollywood” (4.1/6).

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