Must-see TV falters after short Series

Fox scores big Sunday

The competition had dreamed about it for years and last week they got it — a shot at NBC when its Thursday lineup was merely mortal.

True, World Series results on Tuesday and Wednesday kept the Peacock solidly in first place for the Oct. 25-31 primetime Nielsens week, but the baseball disruption also undercut NBC’s Thursday strength as the Series’ quick end forced an unpromoted, all-rerun schedule to fill in on what’s usually NBC’s biggest night.

Suddenly Fox had the week’s top-rated series among adults 18-49 (the season premiere of ”Ally McBeal”) and CBS claimed the top three non-sports total-viewer tallies (with ”Touched by an Angel,” ”Everybody Loves Raymond” and ”Becker”).

Excluding sports, NBC had just one of the week’s seven highest-rated series in adults 18-49 (a ”Friends” rerun). If baseball is factored out of last week’s averages, NBC falls to third in both adults 18-49 and households, behind ABC and Fox in the 18-49 race and behind CBS and ABC in homes.

It was an anomalous week to be sure, and NBC’s Thursday will seldom perform as poorly in the foreseeable future, but some of last week’s Peacock woes are legitimate signs of growing vulnerability. Most troubling are the continued weekend fades of once-promising freshmen ”Freaks and Geeks” and ”Third Watch,” and the Friday demise of ”Cold Feet.”

Last week’s adults 18-49 averages were: NBC, a 5.2 rating, 15 share (down 10% vs. the same week last year); ABC, 4.6/13 (down 8%); Fox, 4.5/12 (down 24%); CBS, 3.6/10 (down 8%); UPN, 1.4/4 (up 27%); WB, 1.4/4 (down 18%); Pax TV, 0.3/1. Year-ago results were boosted by the inclusion of three sweeps nights.

National primetime 18-49 averages for the top cable services were: ESPN, 1.1/3 (up 10%); HBO, 1.0/3 (down 9%); USA, 0.8/2 (even); TBS, 0.7/2 (down 13%); TNT, 0.6/2 (down 45%).

Monday

Fox’s ”Ally McBeal” raised plenty of eyebrows in preliminary Nov. 1 results, revealing a series-record 11.8 rating, 17 share in homes and a slot-winning 9.6/22 in adults 18-49.

The numbers were a little less provocative at 8 p.m. for ”Time of Your Life” (a prelim 5.3/8 in homes, 3.7/9 in adults 18-49), down 5% vs. its premiere 18-49 score and down 21% from year-ago ”Melrose Place” results in the slot. But ”Time” still ticked off an easy slot win in adults 18-34.

Seattle-Green Bay football won the night for ABC, but reliable prelim numbers for the game weren’t available.

Sunday

Fox’s Sunday fortunes quickly improved Oct. 31 with a season-best football overrun, ”Simpsons” Halloween episodes and the first rerun of a controversial 1996 ”X-Files.” That ”X-Files” seg, ”Home” (the most requested ”X” rerun in a poll of FX cable viewers), scared up the series’ top repeat 18-49 rating since March 1998.

It was Fox’s highest-rated Sunday in adults 18-49 since last January’s Super Bowl.

NBC’s slowing ”Third Watch” fell 23% behind year-ago 18-49 slot results from ”Dateline,” and the net’s off-key ”Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll” telefilm hit season-low NBC Sunday-pic figures.

The WB’s revamped Sunday lineup is a success in firstrun, but ”Felicity” is weak enough in rerun to drop the new sked below year-ago 18-49 results.

As usual, ESPN’s Sunday-night football scored the week’s highest basic-cable stats, including a national 4.0 rating in adults 18-49.

Saturday

With ”Freaks and Geeks” getting failing marks, NBC hit what’s apparently its lowest firstrun regular-sked Saturday rating ever. ”Freaks’ ” lack of popularity contributed to lowest-ever firstrun in-season homes ratings for ”The Pretender” and ”Profiler.”

”A Time to Kill” got away with ABC’s best regular-sked Saturday homes rating since Feb. 21, 1998. It was the first in-season Saturday since Dec. 20, 1997 (when NBC aired ”It’s a Wonderful Life”) that CBS’ ”Walker, Texas Ranger” lost its slot in homes to non-sports competition.

Friday

NBC flopped with ”Freaks and Geeks” and the now-canceled ”Cold Feet,” moving ABC back into the Friday lead (Daily Variety, Nov. 1).

Against special competition, ABC’s ”The Hughleys” held a best-yet 100% of its 18-49 lead-in from ”Sabrina.”

Fox tossed in rerun reality spex to replace the scrubbed pair of ”Ryan Caulfield” and ”Harsh Realm” and beat the ”Ryan”-“Harsh” 18-49 average by 67% (with a 3.0 rating vs. a 1.8).

Thursday

CBS nearly caught NBC’s rerun lineup in homes. It was the Eye’s most competitive in-season finish on a regular-fare non-holiday Thursday since 1985 (Daily Variety, Nov. 1).

ABC surged to season-best Thursday numbers by replacing the forsaken ”Wasteland” with a ”Best Commercials” spec, the Alphabet’s strongest in-season 18-49 performer in that slot since March 4. At 10 p.m., ”20/20” tossed in its largest audience since Jan. 29.

Wednesday

Facing the climactic game of the World Series, the WB’s ”Dawson’s Creek” and ”Roswell” plus Fox’s ”Get Real” hit lowest-yet firstrun homes ratings, while ”Beverly Hills, 90210” slipped to its lowest since Jan. 3, 1991 (Daily Variety, Oct. 29).

A special ”King of Queens” rerun showed Wednesday promise, building by 43% on its ”Cosby” 18-49 lead-in, vs. an average 4% drop for struggling slot regular ”Work With Me.”

Tuesday

Baseball belted NBC’s best Tuesday homes average since the 1996 Summer Olympics (Daily Variety, Oct. 28).

Monday

”Ally McBeal’s” Oct. 25 season premiere won the night for Fox in adults 18-49, while Atlanta-Pittsburgh football held on in homes (Daily Variety, Oct. 27). ”Everybody Loves Raymond” and ”Becker” were the week’s two most-watched comedies despite facing the ”Ally” debut.

Each household rating point represents an estimated 1 million homes, or 1% of the country’s TV households. 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 the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.

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