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Peacock’s win kicks off season

Strong rookie dramas put NBC in rates lead

The new fall season is shaping up to be the year of the drama, and so far, that’s played to NBC’s advantage.

With no less than four promising rookie dramas unveiled during the Sept. 20-26 week, NBC has started its Nielsen season with a first-place sweep of the adults 18-49, total viewers and household categories while arguably reaping the most promising crop of new series.

NBC got strong starts last week from Monday’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” Wednesday’s “The West Wing,” Saturday’s “Freaks and Geeks” and Sunday’s “Third Watch,” giving the Peacock the most reason to crow about its freshman class.

The only NBC drama to receive something of a cold shoulder from viewers last week was Friday’s “Cold Feet.” Ironically, the “Must-See” network has much bigger problems with its new sitcoms, Thursday’s “Stark Raving Mad” and Tuesday’s “Mike O’Malley,” but in general, premiering comedies have failed to distinguish themselves so far this fall (although it’s too early to truly judge the strength of the Peacock’s Thursday performance until “ER” returns this week).

CBS has also unveiled a sharp-looking rookie team. “Now and Again” is a surprise Friday winner, while the Monday pair of “Ladies Man” and “Family Law” as well as Tuesday’s “Judging Amy” have also shown early promise.

ABC’s “Once and Again” looked great on Tuesday and Wednesday’s “Oh Grow Up” has performed respectably so far, but Friday’s “Odd Man Out” and Sunday’s “Snoops” were sluggish starters.

Fox has flopped with its two premieres so far, Wednesday’s “Get Real” and Thursday’s “Action.”

UPN has a bona fide hit in Thursday’s “WWF Smackdown!,” plus promising early numbers from Monday’s “The Parkers” and “Grown Ups.” The WB has started somewhat slowly with Monday’s “Safe Harbor” and Sunday’s “Jack & Jill.”

In a conference call Tuesday, NBC Entertainment prexy Garth Ancier noted that the Peacock’s comedies (and everyone else’s) may now catch up a little with last week’s hot-starting dramas, since sitcoms are now regularly starting slower than dramas. “Comedies depend so much on learning about characters and enjoying them once you know them,” Ancier commented. “It’s always been a harder launching pad.”

NBC’s winning results last week were amplified by Sunday’s huge “Saturday Night Live 25th Anniversary” spec, while CBS got an atypical boost from Wednesday’s annual “Country Music Assn. Awards.”

The week’s adults 18-49 averages were NBC, a 6.4 rating, 18 share (down in rating by 2% vs. results for the same week last year); ABC, 4.9/14 (down 6%); CBS, 4.3/12 (down 9%); Fox, 3.7/11 (down 14%); UPN, 1.5/4 (up 67%) tied with WB, 1.5/4 (up 15%); Pax TV, a 0.3 rating.

National primetime 18-49 averages for the top cable services were ESPN, 1.1/3 (up 10%); HBO, 0.9/3 (down 10%); USA, 0.9/2 (up 29%); TBS, 0.7/2 (even); Lifetime, 0.7/2 (up 75%).

The WB successfully switched “Felicity” to Sundays and got good demos out of its Friday launch, allowing the netlet to lead the week among female teens with a 39% increase over year-ago results (a 5.3 rating vs. a 3.8).

But it was wrestling-fortified UPN that made the week’s biggest strides, and suddenly the rival UPN and WB netlets are competitive with each other once again (albeit with dramatically different male-female skews).

Ad-supported cable took its biggest-ever slice out of the premiere-week viewership pie, improving by 8% on its year-ago homes rating (23.5 vs. 21.7). But the seven broadcast nets were also up by 3% (36.0 vs. 35.0).

Monday

ABC’s San Francisco-Arizona football topped Sept. 27 standings with a 13.3 rating, 22 share, in homes and an 8.2/23 in adults 18-49.

CBS’ strong Monday rookies slipped only marginally vs. strong previous-week premieres. At 8:30, “Ladies Man” (8.6/13 in homes, 4.5/12 in adults 18-49) led its half-hour in the 18-49 demo, and at 10 p.m., “Family Law” (10.9/18 in homes, 5.4/14 in adults 18-49) beat CBS’ year-ago 18-49 result in that slot by 50%.

That helped the Eye roll to its closest households finish behind ABC on a football Monday since Nov. 11, 1996. And for the first time, “Everybody Loves Raymond” (12.2/18 in homes, 6.6/16 in adults 18-49) beat football head-to-head in total viewers.

NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (9.6/14 in homes, 4.9/12 in adults 18-49) cooled by 9% vs. premiere week in adults 18-49, but still looks to have solidified a tough slot for NBC.

Fox’s reruns of “That ’70s Show” (3.4/10 and 3.8/10 at 8 and 8:30, respectively, in adults 18-49) embarrassed the slot competition by finishing second in the 18-49 demo, beating everyone but CBS’ comedies.

The WB continues to sizzle with “7th Heaven” (5.8/9 in homes, 2.7/8 in adults 18-49), which beat its NBC and Fox slot rivals in homes. At 9 p.m., though, the falloff remains steep for “Safe Harbor” (3.5/5 in homes, 1.7/4 in adults 18-49).

Sunday

“Saturday Night Live” stole the show with NBC’s top entertainment- spec Nielsens since 1993. The Peacock was also buoyed by a heroic Sunday start from “Third Watch” (Daily Variety, Sept. 28).

The WB successfully shifted its Sunday schedule from urban sitcoms to young-female hours, improving by 36% on its year-ago adults 18-49 nightlong average (with a 1.5 rating vs. a 1.1). “Felicity” set WB slot records in adults 18-49 and other key demos, and improved that slot vs. last year by 117% in female teens (9.1 vs. 4.2).

The WB must hope, though, that “Jack & Jill” improves on the retention of its “Felicity” lead-in once out of the shadow of “SNL” competition.

ESPN’s N.Y. Giants-New England football was the week’s top-rated cablecast, earning a national 3.8 rating in adults 18-49.

Saturday

NBC’s “Freaks and Geeks” achieved Nielsen popularity on the first Saturday of the new semester, winning its slot in most younger demos (Daily Variety, Sept. 28). That keyed NBC’s biggest Saturday 18-49 win in a premiere week since 1991.

Friday

Despite a fairly chilly reception for NBC’s “Cold Feet,” viewers warmed again to “Providence” at 8 p.m. and kept Friday in the NBC win column.

CBS may have made the night’s biggest strides, though, as the premiering “Now and Again” captured its hour in adults 18-49 and nabbed the Eye’s best regular-sked homes rating there since Feb. 28, 1997 (“JAG”).

ABC’s “T.G.I.F.” comedies continued to erode, leaving the Alphabet with its lowest homes rating ever for a firstrun, regular-fare Friday.

ABC still won the night in teens and kids.

Part of the problem is tough demo competition as the WB invades Friday. That netlet’s first try on the night brought a promising 15% increase over the adults 18-34 average of a similar debuting lineup a year earlier on Thursday.

Thursday

NBC still owns Thursday, though “Jesse” and “Stark Raving Mad” have started the season well below satisfactory levels for that “Must See” lineup.

Fox’s failing 9-10 p.m. combo of “Family Guy” and “Action” collapsed to fifth place in adults 18-49, and some sort of slot change for the expensive pair of critically praised comedies seems inevitable.

Wednesday

CBS’ Country Music Assn. Awards won the night in homes, viewers and all 18-49 and 25-54 breakouts. The kudocast’s ratings also grew by 19% vs. last year in women 18-34.

NBC’s “The West Wing” got off to a good (albeit older-skewing) start, giving the Peacock a chance to wrest the overall Wednesday 18-49 lead from ABC. The Alphabet got an OK start at 9:30 from “Oh Grow Up,” which retained 85% of its adults 18-49 lead-in.

Tuesday

ABC scored with “Once and Again,” the top-rated premiering drama among adults 18-49 in four years (not counting NBC’s Thursday preview of “Third Watch”). NBC struck out with the rookie “Mike O’Malley Show,” which dropped 37% below its 18-49 lead-in.

Monday

Big Dallas-Atlanta football numbers kept ABC first on the season’s opening night, though CBS’ lineup got off to a hot start (Daily Variety, Sept. 22).

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. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it measures only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.