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NBC narrows gap as sweeps near finish

'Millionaire' still hot

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” has ended its scheduled November run, and now it’s time for ABC to sweat a little.

With record Nielsens for its final planned November seg, last Wednesday’s “Millionaire” left ABC with a seemingly insurmountable lead in the November sweeps.

But Saturday football has fumbled away enough of that ABC margin to keep NBC’s faint hopes of an end-of-the-month miracle alive.

The gameshow’s highest-yet ratings Nov. 24 left ABC a hefty 0.9 ratings-point margin in adults 18-49, with just a week remaining in the sweeps, but NBC’s dominant Thursday lineup immediately shaved four-tenths off that 18-49 lead, and ABC’s lousy Stanford-Notre Dame Saturday gridcast got sacked for another tenth, according to projections based on prelim Wednesday-through-Saturday Nielsens.

So now ABC faces the last four nights of the sweep with a mere 0.4 ratings-point advantage in that 18-49 race. With Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday repping ABC’s strongest nights of the week, the Alphabet still looks uncatchable, but the finish may be a lot closer than anyone could have expected after “Millionaire” stumped its sweeps competition for 18 consecutive nights. ABC is seeking its first sweeps month 18-49 triumph since November 1994.

In households, ABC’s lead has been whittled from 1.4 rating points after “Millionaire’s” record ratings to 0.7 through Saturday.

NBC’s chances of stealing the month were hampered when Thanksgiving-night viewership distractions gave NBC’s “Friends” its unfriendliest firstrun homes rating ever and “ER” its weakest firstrun pulse since September 1994. At 9 p.m. Thursday, “Frasier” slipped to NBC’s lowest homes rating in that slot with regular firstrun fare since Thanksgiving 1983 (“We Got It Made”).

Perhaps most humiliating for NBC on Thursday was an 8:30-9 p.m. slot loss (at least in prelim results) to CBS in adults 18-49, as a Shania Twain concert strutted past “Just Shoot Me.” Twain’s spec belted out CBS’ best 18-49 results in the Thursday 8-9 p.m. hour since the 1998 Winter Olympics.

“Millionaire’s” record Wednesday tallies (all preliminary) were 29.46 million total viewers; a 17.6 rating, 31 share, in homes; and 9.7/29 in adults 18-49. The records were especially impressive given low holiday viewership on one of the year’s busiest travel days.

Tuesday’s seg (26.64 million, a 9.4 rating in adults 18-49) cashed in ABC’s second-highest viewer total that hour in more than six years.

The networks’ flurry of holiday-week film specials brought mixed results. Fox’s figures were generally horrific, with “Scream” (8.41 million, 3.2 in adults 18-49) emitting Fox’s most blood-curdling 18-49 average for an in-season Tuesday since December, while Thursday’s “Home Alone 2” (a prelim 9.29 million, 2.8/8 in adults 18-49) settled for just one-third of Fox’s year-earlier 18-49 result (8.4/24) with “Jumanji” (which benefited from a big football lead-in).

This year’s Friday run of “Jumanji” (a prelim 10.23 million, 4.1/12) did manage Fox’s highest Friday viewer count since February.

NBC shifted one-time Turkey-night regular “Home Alone” (a prelim 14.08 million, 4.9/15 in adults 18-49) to Saturday and conked ABC’s bumbling Stanford-Notre Dame football (a 3.8/6 households score in metered markets).

ABC’s Thanksgiving-weekend pics prospered, as the Alphabet dashed to its best non-“Millionaire” Thursday since February with “Forrest Gump” (a prelim 13.85 million, 5.5/14 in adults 18-49) and its best non-“Millionaire” Friday 8-10 p.m. 18-49 score since New Year’s Eve with “Jingle All the Way” (a prelim 13.10 million, 4.6/14 in adults 18-49).

That “Jingle” lead-in failed to cheer ABC’s “20/20” at 10 p.m. (a prelim 10.30 million, 3.6/10 in adults 18-49), which moped to its lowest in-season homes rating in that slot (7.0) since “20/20” faced Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding Olympic skating in February 1994. Part of the problem was slot-winning competition from rival newsmag “Dateline NBC” (a prelim 12.36 million, 4.8/14 in adults 18-49).

CBS’ Thanksgiving-week music specials strummed tuneful Nielsens. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, respectively, concert specs from Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Ricky Martin were up 52%, 183% and 75% vs. CBS’ 18-49 series averages in those slots this season. Twain got a big boost from its Dallas-Miami football lead-in.

Viewer counts for Celine, Shania and Ricky were, respectively, 12.39 million, 18.29 million and 11.68 million.

Those results are probably coming too late to keep CBS in the November homes race. Those projected standings through Saturday are ABC, a 9.9 rating (up 19% vs. last year); NBC, 9.2 (down 4%); CBS, 8.8 (down 4%); Fox, 6.5 (down 19%).

In adults 18-49, it’s ABC, a 5.9 rating (up 23%); NBC, 5.5 (down 8%); Fox, 4.8 (down 17%); CBS, 3.8 (down 3%).

Thursday’s unusually low NBC homes ratings included a prelim 10.8/21 for “Friends,” a 12.1/22 for “Frasier” and a 17.8/31 for “ER.” A special 9:30 “Will & Grace” set a series record with 19.14 million viewers. Due to the holiday, Thursday’s rate of homes using TV dropped 14% vs. the previous week.

Wednesday’s record-setting “Millionaire” finale crushed NBC’s slot-rival “Dateline” (a prelim 6.3 million, 2.0/6 in adults 18-49), for that newsmag’s worst Wednesday homes rating ever (4.7).

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.

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