New hits and misses

After first week, frosh shows taking shape

The networks continue to produce some surprising successes amid the overall ratings erosion of 1999’s premiere week, with CBS’ Friday actioner ”Now and Again” and Saturday’s NBC high school drama ”Freaks and Geeks” the latest fall rookies to hit the schedule looking like potential hits.

Meanwhile, the Peacock’s ”Must See” Thursday schedule continues to fade — but the new lineups on competing nets are off to even worse starts, leaving the NBC team still firmly in control of that key evening.

As for the overall premiere week picture, prelim ratings from six nights of the season’s opening seven-night frame show each of the Big Four nets trending down from year-ago adults 18-49 results.

The good news, however, is that every net — except for Fox, which basically sat out premiere week — has at least one show about which it can feel optimistic.

That upbeat tone even extends to the weekend, where CBS and NBC seem to have found some success on nights which have long been trouble spots.

On Friday, CBS’ premiere of ”Now and Again” (a preliminary 12.02 million viewers, 4.4/14 in adults 18-49) pulled a major upset, winning the 9-10 p.m. hour in adults 18-49 with a 63% surge over the year-ago fourth-place numbers of the premiering ”Buddy Faro.” Even more encouraging, the aud for the drama built during the hour, indicating viewers may be inclined to return to check out the show’s second seg this week.

‘Freaks’ peak

Saturday’s star was NBC’s ”Freaks and Geeks” (9.03 million, 4.0/14 in adults 18-49), which led the 8-9 p.m. hour by 2 shares in the 18-49 demo and beat last year’s week-four premiere in that slot of ”Wind on Water” by 73% (4.0 vs. 2.3).

With six nights of prelim Nielsen data in for premiere week, NBC should easily win the season’s opening frame among adults 18-49. The Peacock easily leads with an average 5.9 rating (down 13% from last year), though ABC is pulling closer to second with a 5.0 (down 4%). No. 3 CBS (4.3, down 2%) finds itself far ahead of struggling Fox (3.3, down 18%).

Other Nielsen highlights from the weekend:

On Thursday, NBC remains dominant, but there are problems, especially with ”Jesse” and ”Stark Raving Mad,” which seem unlikely to energize that eroding lineup this season.

”Jesse” (with 21.25 million viewers and an 11.3 rating, 32 share in adults 18-49) held a poor 75% of its 18-49 lead-in from ”Friends,” down from its debut 86% retention of a year earlier. It’s NBC’s worst retention in that slot on a premiere Thursday since the Peacock instituted a comedy lineup in that hour in 1983.

At 9:30, ”Stark Raving Mad” (18.62 million, 9.2/24 in adults 18-49) settled for a 77% retention, far short of the year-ago 90% earned in that slot by ”Veronica’s Closet” and NBC’s lowest premiere-week retention there since the 73% of ”Madman of the People” in 1994.

At 10 p.m., NBC previewed ”Third Watch” in the regular ”ER” hour and got 20.56 million viewers to sample the rookie Sunday drama. But the ”Third Watch” 9.6/27 in adults 18-49 reps a 44% plunge from last year’s ”ER” rating in the time period.

‘Friends,’ ‘Frasier’ falloffs

”Friends” (27.75 million, 15.0/44 in adults 18-49) and ”Frasier” (25.24 million, 11.9/32 in adults 18-49) also showed significant falloffs compared with last year, down 10% and 16%, respectively, vs. their year-ago premiere 18-49 ratings.

NBC still beat Thursday night’s combined 18-49 competition on ABC, CBS and Fox, winning the night by a commanding 21 shares in adults 18-49 — and that was without ”ER.” NBC’s ”Friends” remains a staggering success with women 18-34, earning a 20.8/57 (down 3% from last year) to win the half-hour by 50 share points.

Fox was dealt another serious setback with woeful numbers for ”Family Guy” (4.99 million, 2.3/6 in adults 18-49) at 9 p.m. and ”Action” (5.01 million, 2.5/7 in adults 18-49) at 9:30. Net landed fifth that hour in viewers and adults 18-49, beating only reruns on the WB.

Fox execs insist they plan to stick by the critically hailed “Action,” with some insiders already speculating about giving the skein a new timeslot. One scenario has “Party of Five” returning to Wednesdays and “Action” shifting to Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m., where no net has established a comedy beachhead.

Over at CBS, ”Chicago Hope” (11.43 million, 3.4/9 in adults 18-49) got a good Thursday start, second for the 9-10 p.m. hour in homes and third in adults 18-49. UPN’s muscular ”WWF Smackdown” (6.3 million, 2.2/6 in adults 18-49) beat all broadcast competition in teens and trailed only NBC in men 18-34 (though NBC nearly tripled UPN’s numbers in that demo from 8-10 p.m. with a 10.1 rating vs. a 3.4).

On Friday, The Eye’s gains from “Now and Again” came as one-time Friday leader ABC slumped to third for the night in adults 18-49, with the 8-10 p.m. ”T.G.I.F.” lineup tumbling 22% below year-ago 18-49 results.

The low point for the Alphabet web came at 9:30, as the premiering ”Odd Man Out” (a prelim 9.04 million, 3.1/10 in adults 18-49) retained just 74% of its 18-49 lead-in from ”Sabrina” (a prelim 11.25 million, 4.2/14 in adults 18-49). Last year, rookie laffer “Brother’s Keeper” held on to 86% of its lead-in in the same slot.

Perky ‘Providence’

NBC won the night in adults 18-49 — the first time it’s done so during a premiere week since 1989. The difference was ”Providence” (a prelim 14.45 million viewers, 4.9/18 in adults 18-49), which looks healthy again after a shaky summer, earning its highest homes rating since Feb. 12.

The opening numbers for NBC’s ”Cold Feet” (a prelim 9.08 million viewers, 3.8/12 in adults 18-49) proved less promising Friday. That perf actually fell a bit short of year-ago numbers captured in that 10-11 p.m. slot by the now-canceled ”Homicide: Life on the Street.”

As for the WB, it invaded Friday with its new urban sitcom sked and settled for an OK 2.8/5 households average in Nielsen’s metered markets. The national number is likely to drop somewhat and will probably fall short of the national 2.4/4 a similar schedule earned when it launched Thursdays for the WB a year earlier.

On Saturday, If NBC’s ”Freaks” can remain on Nielsen’s honor roll, it may reinvigorate the rest of the web’s fading Saturday sked. ”The Pretender” (9.56 million, 4.1/13 in adults 18-49) and ”Profiler” (9.64 million, 4.1/13) each started their fourth seasons Saturday with a 7% decline vs. year-ago 18-49 results.

CBS’ established lineup won the night by 3 shares in households, with “Walker, Texas Ranger” remaining an unsung hero and the newly tweaked “Martial Law” easily winning its timeslot. On the downside, the Eye’s 3.2/10 in adults 18-49 dove 24% below the 4.2/14 earned by last year’s premiere Saturday.

Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.24 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it’s measured against only those viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.