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Peacock crows early on sweeps

'Landon' helps push Eye towards possible households win

With three nights still uncounted, the Peacock is already crowing victory in the May sweeps.

Though its Jesse Ventura biopic was body-slammed by the Sunday competition, NBC is projecting solid wins in both the May sweeps households and adults 18-49 races.

Despite NBC’s exuberance, CBS remains an outside threat in households, with Sunday’s “Michael Landon: The Father I Knew” conquering ABC’s “Cleopatra” and NBC’s Ventura film in households.

Fox continues to hold onto second place for the month in adults 18-49 after “Independence Day” mowed down the Sunday competition in that demo.

NBC reckons it will beat second-placers ABC and Fox by 1.3 rating points in the May sweeps 18-49 race, and win in households over runner-up CBS by a 0.6-rating-point margin. CBS is projecting a much tighter finish in the latter race.

NBC may revise its estimates after updated Sunday results are figured in. The night went poorly for the Peacock and its “Jesse Ventura Story,” which got pounded in preliminary nationals with a mere 6.0 rating, 10 share in homes and a 3.8/9 in adults 18-49. That makes “Jesse” the lowest-rated Sunday 9-11 p.m. pic throughout the sweeps.

‘Cleopatra’ conquered

ABC also failed to attract blockbuster numbers with its “Cleopatra, Part 1” (a prelim 11.9/19 in homes, 7.5/18 in adults 18-49), which landed 7% behind the 8.1/19 of CBS’ “Joan of Arc, Part 1” in adults 18-49 the week before and 47% behind the 14.1/32 of NBC’s “Noah’s Ark, Part 1” three weeks earlier. “Cleopatra, Part 1” still ranks sixth among 15 multiple-parters aired this season in first-episode 18-49 ratings.

CBS led 9-11 p.m. in households with its Landon biopic (a prelim 12.4/20 in homes, 4.8/12 in adults 18-49), while Fox’s “Independence Day” (a prelim 9.5/16 in homes, 6.8/18 in adults 18-49) hovered 4 shares above its closest competitor (ABC) in the 18-49 demo.

“Independence” orbited within 4 shares of the 9.7/22 adults 18-49 score of “Jurassic Park: The Lost World,” which debuted on broadcast TV last Nov. 1 with no prior exposure in conventional pay-cable outlets.

In a telephone press conference Monday, NBC West Coast prez Scott Sassa emphasized the net’s growing momentum, with the Peacock’s 0.2-rating point edge in last November’s sweeps growing to 0.9 in February and the projected 1.3 in May.

Sassa noted the network that wins May in adults 18-49 has gone on to take the next season by that measure in 13 of the past 15 years.

Better next time

NBC Entertainment prez Garth Ancier backed down slightly from last week’s prediction that NBC would win next season in adults 18-49, but volunteered that an overabundance of new slots for established shows on the competing webs may make it easier for NBC’s relatively stable schedule to stay on top in the demo next season.

Handicapping the opposition, NBC execs downplayed the idea that Fox, whose new lineup is winning raves from many on Madison Avenue, had any particular forward momentum.

Indeed, Fox could see “a bit of a drop next season,” Ancier predicted, adding that for NBC, “the main competition has always been ABC.”

Ancier didn’t seem concerned about any of ABC’s scheduling moves for next season. “I don’t think they’ve made much of an improvement,” he said.

While some analysts are already expressing concern that the major nets may be trying to skew too young next fall with a slew of teen and twentysomething targeted skeins, Ancier said the Peacock was still looking to subtract a few years off the median age of its viewers, which now stands at just under 43.

Ancier said the proliferation of newsmags, such as “Dateline NBC,” has pushed up the median age of network viewers.

Responding to a reporter’s query about the cancellation of “Homicide: Life on the Street,” Ancier said the networks have to know when to say goodbye to veteran shows. He pointed to the Peacock’s decision last year to shell out over $2 million a seg to keep “Mad About You” as an example of hanging on to a series too long.

“Everyone kind of regrets (the renewal) now,” he said. NBC execs touted the web’s big May advantage in the 10:30-11 p.m. lead-in to local news, the most important half-hour of the sweeps.

NBC’s Monday-Friday 18-49 average for that slot is an 8.4 rating, well ahead of the 5.1 of Fox, the 4.8 of ABC and the 4.1 of CBS.

The Peacock will also dominate the month in early-morning results with “Today,” (a winner now for 15 consecutive major sweeps months in adults 25-54) and in late night with “Tonight” (which built on its year-ago advantage over CBS’ “David Letterman”), “Conan O’Brien” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Homes discounted

Asked to respond to CBS’ anticipated declaration today of a season-long households victory, Sassa noted that homes results have no impact on ad revenue. That helps to explain, Sassa said, why NBC gets roughly twice what CBS averages per 30 second spot ($160,000 per vs. CBS’ $80,000, according to NBC estimates).

NBC would certainly prefer to lead in households, Sassa said, but considers the category less of a priority than adults 18-49, or the various upscale demographic measures of delivery in that key 10:30-11 p.m. half-hour.

CBS’ Sunday “Landon” pic is expected to boost the Eye web to a weeklong Nielsen win, by about a 0.2 or 0.3-rating-point margin over NBC. In adults 18-49, the Peacock is expected to beat runner-up Fox by about a 0.9-rating-point edge when Nielsen releases those May 17-23 results today.

Projected 25-night sweeps household averages, incorporating prelim weekend results, are NBC, a 9.7 rating (down by 15% vs. its “Seinfeld” –boosted results for the same nights last year); CBS, 9.2 (up 3%); ABC, 7.2 (down 4%); Fox, 6.3 (down 10%). In adults 18-49, averages are: NBC, 6.0 (down 22%); Fox, 4.5 (down 10%); ABC, 4.2 (down 2%); CBS, 3.7 (down 3%).

NBC’s 18-49 win will be its 13th in the past 14 major sweeps.

Each household rating point represents an estimated 994,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV households. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.239 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it’s measured against only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.

(Josef Adalian in New York contributed to this report.)