Jacko specs tell dramas to beat it

Newsmags' celeb interviews pull in big numbers

HOLLYWOOD — As NBC celebrates another victory and Fox and the WB delight in their year-to-year gains, it’s important to remember that there were other winners during the 2002-03 season.

Here’s a look at some of them:

Michael Jackson — The Gloved One was so hot in February, you would have thought it was 1983.

“Living With Michael Jackson,” an at-times bizarre two-hour interview with the former King of Pop that aired on ABC under the umbrella of “20/20,” delivered a huge 11.0/25 in adults 18-49 and 27.1 million viewers overall — the net’s best Thursday numbers in 12 years, according to Nielsen.

This was followed two weeks later by NBC’s “Dateline” spec “Michael Jackson Unmasked” (6.3/13 in adults 18-49) and Fox’s own “Michael Jackson: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See” (6.1/14 in adults 18-49). Fox took another dip in the Jacko pool on the opening night of the May sweep with “Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies,” but by then the thrill was gone (3.2/9).

Newsmaker interviews — Every newsmag saw declines in popularity, but their ratings spiked up when a big-name celeb or newsmaker came on to rant, cry or spin.

ABC was especially strong here, with Whitney Houston’s “Primetime” chat grabbing a big 9.0/22 in 18-49 and the Osbournes on “20/20” drawing a 7.7/19. Other top scores were for Jennifer Lopez on “Primetime” (7.0/19) and for the baddest of the baddies, Saddam Hussein, on CBS’ “60 Minutes II” (5.2/13).

Mike Darnell — The head of Fox’s reality division, Darnell was responsible for saving the net’s season with the mega-ratings combo of “American Idol” and “Joe Millionaire.”

The late-season months proved he was human, though, as neither “Married by America” nor “Mr. Personality” took off. But Darnell always has something up his sleeve, so look for him to shock auds again next season as he adds new spokes to the net’s Monday reality wheel.

Performing music — There was lots of music on the broadcast nets, and auds flocked to it.

“American Idol,” featuring wannabe singers belting out tunes and competing for the nation’s votes, led the way of course, but CBS’ new version of “Star Search,” featuring categories for both junior and adult singers, was also a quiet success, as was NBC’s nostalgic family drama “American Dreams,” which featured re-enactments from “American Bandstand.”

Auds tuned in, too, for the “Grammy Awards” on CBS, up 26% year-to-year to its third-best 18-49 score in 10 years (11.3/27). NBC did well with concert specs from Faith Hill and Cher — the latter netted the Peacock’s largest Tuesday aud of the season.

Rob Lowe — It wasn’t surprising to fans of the actor that ratings for NBC drama “The West Wing” began to slide as his character was phased out of the series. Or that his CBS movie “The Christmas Shoes” would become the season’s second most-watched telepic on any net (16.6 million). And it shouldn’t surprise anyone this fall when his new NBC legal drama, “The Lyon’s Den,” wins its Sunday timeslot.

Crime dramas — The season’s top two new scripted hours were the Eye’s “CSI: Miami” (6.1/15 in 18-49) and “Without a Trace” (5.2/14), while the largest year-to-year sophomore drama gainers were NBC’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and Fox’s “24.”

You know the genre is likely to cool off, though, now that ABC has hopped aboard the bandwagon (starting with the weak-performing “Dragnet” last winter), and CBS has done its part by adding three more hours to its crime-ridden sked. Yes, three more.

Enough is enough.

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