‘Millionaire’ mints big ABC ratings win

'Practice' makes perfect lead-in

How’s this for a payoff?

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” has given ABC its biggest weeklong Nielsens since the March 1998 Oscarcast, when “Titanic” sailed off with best picture honors.

ABC will find itself far ahead of the Nov. 8-14 primetime pack when Nielsen releases those averages today, though the vanquished competition can take some solace after wrapping the week with a Sunday in which nothing got clobbered by “Millionaire” and virtually everything the nets tried performed reasonably well.

Neither CBS’ “Aftershock: Earthquake in New York, Part 1” nor NBC’s “Mary, Mother of Jesus” could work any miracles vs. Sunday’s “Millionaire,” but both fared better than the previous week’s “Shake, Rattle & Roll” and “Leprechauns.”

Meanwhile, “The X-Files” is holding up impressively vs. “Millionaire,” helping put Fox first Sunday in the key adults 18-49 demo despite the gameshow’s Nielsen riches.

Perfect lead-in

The emerging story of the night, though, may be ABC’s “The Practice,” which overruled “Aftershock” and “Mary” in the 10-11 p.m. hour while allowing only a moderate closing of the gap vs. “Millionaire’s” 9-10 p.m. margins.

From 7-9 p.m., ABC’s “Space Jam” (a preliminary 13.89 million viewers and a 4.7 rating, 12 share, in adults 18-49) managed barely half last week’s “Annie” audience in the slot (26.29 million, 7.8/18), but still posted the second-best “Wonderful World of Disney” numbers this season.

That big Sunday has capped off ABC’s highest-rated week since “Titanic” sank the Oscars competition during the week of March 23-29, 1998. ABC is projected to finish Nov. 8-14 with a 6.3 rating in adults 18-49, up 19% vs. the same week last year, and a full point ahead of second-place NBC’s anticipated 5.3 (down 10%). Fox (4.7, down 19%) and CBS (4.0, up 3%) are expected to trail.

Sailing ahead

If ABC’s one-point triumph holds when Nielsen issues official Nov. 8-14 results today, that’ll equal the ABC winning margin during “Titanic’s” Oscar week, the Alphabet’s widest gap since Oscar week 1995.

ABC will win the Nov. 8-14 period even more comfortably in households, with roughly a 10.4 rating (up 17%), to easily beat NBC (9.1, down 1%), CBS (8.8, down 5%) and Fox (6.4, down 17%).

Sunday’s “Millionaire” counted up 24.90 million viewers and an 8.8/18 in adults 18-49, both down slightly from the previous Sunday, but colossal nonetheless. “The X-Files” (15.88 million, 8.9/18 in adults 18-49) was stronger in young-male and young-adult categories, but otherwise, “Millionaire” remained in a class by itself.

If these prelim Sunday results stand, “X-Files” will have two 18-49 wins in two tries this month vs. “Millionaire.” The only other show to outscore “Millionaire” in that demo all last week was Thursday’s “Friends” rerun.

Comparatively better

Facing “Millionaire,” NBC’s “Mary, Mother of Jesus” (a prelim 16.73 million, 6.2/14 in adults 18-49) and CBS’ “Aftershock” (a prelim 16.03 million, 6.0/13) were no great shakes, but “Mary” edged week-earlier results for NBC’s much-hyped “Leprechauns” and “Aftershock” towered 46% over the previous Sunday’s 18-49 rating for ‘ Shake, Rattle & Roll” (6.0 vs. 4.1).

CBS was able to win the night in homes, and NBC rose to its best Sunday 18-49 regular-sked result since March 14.

At 10 p.m., ABC’s “The Practice” (a prelim 19.12 million, 7.5/18) negotiated a series-record viewer tally and held a big chunk of the lead-in advantage it inherited from “Millionaire.” From 9-10 p.m., “Millionaire” led the “Aftershock”-“Mary” competition by 5 shares in households and 3 in adults 18-49, while from 10-11 p.m., “The Practice” prevailed by 3 shares in both.

Fox has some questions to ponder at 8:30, where “Futurama’s” best days may be behind it. This week, the promising Matt Groening creation retained a mediocre 85% of its 18-49 lead-in, somewhat below what Fox wants to see in that coveted “Simpsons”-to-“X-Files” hammock.

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.