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It looks like the Peacock needs a ride on “Noah’s Ark.”

NBC has taken the early lead three nights into the May sweeps, but down 16% from year-ago results in adults 18-49 — a dropoff that limits the promotional base with which the Peacock could launch the two-parter “Noah’s Ark,” which bowed Sunday night.

“Ark” ratings, the first of which are due from Nielsen today, will go a long way toward determining if this month is an NBC runaway or a wide-open race.

The Peacock scampered far ahead of the pack as sweeps began Thursday, but NBC’s vaunted regulars (sans “Seinfeld” this year) fell 26% short of their year-ago 18-49 results with an 11.2 rating, 31 share.

NBC Thursday slips

It was NBC’s weakest firstrun Thursday average in nearly five years, since May 12, 1994.

With Friday seeing lowest-yet first-run “Providence” numbers and Saturday’s “Bulletproof” getting riddled for NBC’s worst non-basketball slot results this season, NBC’s first three nights of the sweeps are off by 16% in adults 18-49 and 14% in homes vs. last year. Falloffs are comparable, though, at Fox and CBS in what’s been a poor effort so far this sweep by the broadcast networks.

Estimated sweeps averages using preliminary Friday and Saturday results show NBC leading the three-night 18-49 standings with a 5.9 rating, followed by Fox’s 3.6 (down 14% vs. last year), ABC’s 3.3 (up 6%) and CBS’ 2.9 (down 12%). In homes, it’s NBC, 9.4; CBS, 6.9 (down 14%); ABC, 6.0 (down 6%); Fox, 5.7 (down 12%).

NBC’s killer Thursday lineup, effected by UPN pro wrestling and Fox reality specials, dipped to an 11.2/31 in adults 18-49. “Friends” (13.9/24 in homes, 10.8/34 in adults 18-49) was limited to its lowest homes rating with a firstrun episode since Dec. 15, 1994.

Still dominant

NBC still beat the combined score of the other three major nets in adults 18-49 (11.2/31 vs. 10.4/30 for Fox, CBS and ABC combined).

UPN made the night’s biggest strides, as its “WWF Smackdown” nearly doubled the netlet’s Thursday average in metered-market results (with a 5.8/9 in homes vs. a 3.0/5). Due Tuesday from Nielsen, national figures are likely to decline somewhat.

In New York, “Smackdown” finished second from 8-10 p.m., behind only NBC.

Reality bites

Fox’s Thursday reality specials slipped 3 shares in adults 18-49 behind the net’s opening night of the February sweeps, but that was with weather woes forcing daredevil Robbie Knievel to postpone his Grand Canyon motorcycle jump. Fox was second for the night with a 5.5/15 in adults 18-49 and an 8.0/13 in homes.

ABC’s “Mr. Murder” wrapped with a two-night average 5.5/9 in homes, second-lowest-ever for a firstrun in-season multi on the Big Three. Meanwhile, CBS’ two-hour “Diagnosis Murder” (7.0/11 in homes, 2.4/6 in adults 18-49) stumbled to its worst homes rating ever for a firstrun episode.

In preliminary Nielsens for Friday, NBC prevailed despite the worst firstrun results yet for “Providence” (a prelim 8.8/17 in homes, 4.1/16 in adults 18-49).

Sandler twins duke it out

On Saturday, ABC won the battle of Adam Sandler pics, as the Alphabet’s 8-10 p.m. “Happy Gilmore” rerun (a prelim 5.4/11 in homes, 3.5/13 in adults 18-49) teamed with a “Bloopers” spec (a prelim 6.2/12 in homes, 4.1/14 in adults 18-49) to give ABC its first Saturday 18-49 win since “Gilmore’s” last airing Feb. 6 (also the opening Saturday of a sweeps month).

From 9-11 p.m., NBC’s Sandler pic “Bulletproof” (a prelim 4.6/9 in homes, 2.5/8 in adults 18-49) misfired, landing fourth in its slot.

CBS held on to the Saturday lead in homes with a 6.8/13 average, despite the Eye’s droopiest Saturday 8-10 p.m. households share in the 12 weeks since ABC’s last “Gilmore” airing.

Facing a double dose of Sandler competition, usual Saturday 18-49 leader Fox faded to third with its worst Saturday average (2.9/11) since Christmas week.

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.