ABC pulls shocker

'Millionaire' snaps NBC's 16-year Thurs. win streak

Interest in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” may be finally plateauing, but at lofty levels, and not before the hit ABC gameshow pulled off an historic Thursday upset.

The Nov. 11 “Millionaire” seg outsmarted slot rival “Frasier,” giving ABC its first viewer edge in the Thursday 9-9:30 p.m. slot over a firstrun NBC comedy since “Too Close For Comfort” beat “Gimme a Break” on Feb. 24, 1983.

Thursday also saw Fox unexpectedly cash in on viewers’ voracious appetite for the big-stakes game shows, with “Greed” managing solid increases in its second try despite “Millionaire” competition.

UPN wasn’t intimidated by the gameshow competition, as an Arnold Schwarzenegger appearance on “WWF Smackdown!” tossed in the best nightlong UPN numbers in more than two years.

On Friday and Saturday, “Millionaire” returned to the slightly more subdued results seen in mid-week, settling for its lowest-yet November 18-49 shares (18 on Friday, 17 on Saturday). But the smash gamer is still dominating its slot competition and lifting most nearby skedmates to season-high numbers.

‘Frasier’ flummoxed

Thursday’s “Millionaire” flourished against what should have been its toughest competition of the week, NBC’s Thursday comedies. That night’s seg banked the show’s richest numbers (23.52 million, 8.8/21 in adults 18-49) since the previous Sunday, topping a “Friends” rerun in total viewers at 8:30 (17.13 million viewers, 8.7/22 in adults 18-49) and dominating a firstrun “Frasier” at 9 p.m. (18.61 million, 8.8/21 in adults 18-49).

It was the first time in more than 16 years ABC has beaten a firstrun NBC comedy in the Thursday 9-9:30 half-hour in either viewers or adults 18-49.

In households, “Frasier” settled for a 12.8 rating, NBC’s lowest with firstrun regular fare in that slot since Thanksgiving night 1983 (“We Got It Made”). “Millionaire’s” homes rating (14.3) was ABC’s best in that slot since Nov. 5, 1992 (“Matlock”).

NBC still breezed in nightlong 18-49 standings, beating ABC’s 8-11 p.m. average by 13 shares (27 to 14).

Viewers are game

After a slow start the previous Thursday, Fox’s “Greed” (11.18 million 4.9/12 in adults 18-49) surprisingly benefited from the “Millionaire” competition, especially at 9:30, when the latter went off and “Greed” added 4.44 million additional viewers.

In adults 18-49, “Greed” beat its previous-week 8-10 p.m. rating (4.0) by 23%, resulting in Fox’s top-rated nonbaseball Thursday since May 20.

WWF wrestling (7.80 million, 3.2/8 in adults 18-49) drew UPN’s biggest audience on any night since a double dose of “Star Trek: Voyager” Sept. 3, 1997. UPN also won Thursday in teens (6.7/18) for a 12th week in a row.

Friday’s “Millionaire” cashed in a preliminary 18.58 million viewers and 6.0/18 in adults 18-49, sparking season-high viewer totals for lead-in “Boy Meets World” (a prelim 12.04 million) and lead-out “Sabrina” (a prelim 12.51 million).

Sharing the wealth

On Saturday, “Millionaire” pocketed a prelim 18.26 million viewers and a 5.6/14 in adults 18-49, its lowest results this month, but enough to boost the 9-11 p.m. “Partridge Family” biopic (a prelim 10.53 million, 5.0/14) to the highest Saturday 18-49 rating for an ABC movie since “Happy Gilmore” on Feb. 6.

In projected 10-night November sweeps averages, ABC leads with a 5.7 rating in adults 18-49, up a gigantic 30% over last year. NBC has declined 14% to a 5.5, Fox has plummeted by 23% to a 4.4 and CBS is down 3% to a 3.6.

Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.24 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. The share is also a percentage, but measured against only viewers watching TV during the slot involved.