|By Josef Adalian|
NEW YORK (Variety) - NBC won the Feb. 15-21 primetime ratings week in homes and adults 18-49 en route to increasingly likely February sweeps victories in both categories.
CBS, boosted by strong performances from its regular series and part one of its Doris Duke special, finished second in homes, keeping NBC's household ratings lead for the sweeps to within half a ratings point. ABC's much-hyped ``Storm of the Century'' helped the network claim its best week among adults 18-49 this season.
NBC's weekly win was due largely to a spectacular showing by its resurgent Thursday lineup (aided by George Clooney's ``ER'' exit) and the continued strength of the Friday drama ``Providence.'' Since the latter series bowed in January, NBC has won six of seven weeks in adults 18-49, its best such streak this season.
WB kept up its strong February performance, once again matching its best-ever weeklong household rating (3.7) and setting a new record for its highest-rated Sunday night average (3.3). UPN also did well, pulling in its best weeklong adults 18-34 (1.5/4) and adults 18-49 (1.5/4) numbers in 10 months.
NBC remains a solid first among adults 18-49 in the sweeps-to-date race, averaging a 6.3 rating and 17 share through Monday. Fox (5.4/14) is second, followed by ABC (5.2/14) and CBS (3.9/10).
The race is tighter in homes, with NBC (10.0/16) in front, followed by CBS (9.5/15), ABC (8.5/14) and Fox (7.0/11). CBS should close the gap with the conclusion of its ``Doris Duke'' miniseries and Wednesday's Grammycast, but NBC still has another Thursday night, and Sunday's much-hyped three-hour ``Alice in Wonderland'' picture.
For the week of Feb. 15-21, adults 18-49 averages are: NBC, 6.2/16 (up 19% from a year ago); ABC, 5.8/15 (up 18%); Fox, 5.2/14 (down 12%); CBS, 3.8/10 (down 52% from Olympic-boosted numbers); WB, 1.9/5 (up 13%); and UPN, 1.5/4 (up 7%).
HBO was the top-rated cable network for the week with a 1.2/3 in homes. USA (0.9/2), TNT (0.8/2), TBS (0.7/2) and Lifetime (0.5/1) round out the top five.
``Ally McBeal'' scored its best-ever numbers in adults 18-49 (9.7/22), adults 18-34 (11.3/28), homes (11.1/17) and total viewers (16.94 million), lifting Fox to a nightlong win in adults 18-49. The episode featured the follow-up to a Feb. 15 episode in which show's title character rekindled (temporarily) romance with her now-married ex-flame.
``Ally'' numbers were all the more impressive considering the solid performance from ABC's ``And the Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story,'' which scored an 11.7/17 in homes and an 8.2/20 with adults 18-49. The biopic beat ``Ally'' in homes and was the top-rated single-night Monday picture on ABC in two years, helping the network score its best Monday numbers without sports programming since last year's Oscarcast.
The Monday edition of ``20/20'' also earned its best numbers since its premiere four weeks ago, winning the 8-9 p.m. hour in homes.
WB's ``7th Heaven'' (6.6/10) remained solid, ranking first in its slot in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and notching its second-best national homes numbers ever.
By contrast, UPN's ``Dilbert'' sank to its lowest homes and adults 18-49 averages in five outings, while ``The Sentinel'' recorded its lowest homes tally ever (1.5/2).
Fox's regular lineup breezed to an easy adults 18-49 victory, while CBS dominated in homes for the 17th time this season thanks to part one of ``Too Rich -- The Secret Life of Doris Duke.''
ABC's ``The Practice'' continues to build momentum, tying its best Sunday homes rating and scoring its second-best numbers in adults 18-49 this season.
WB's stellar Sunday was powered by best-ever numbers for the encore showing of ``7th Heaven'' and midseason comedy ``Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane.''
CBS kicked its way to a win in homes and adults 18-49. The network got a lift from ``Martial Law,'' which scored its best ratings since its premiere, improving its season-to-date average by 9%.
ABC's broadcast of ``A Very Brady Sequel'' gave the network its lowest Saturday movie ratings in six weeks among adults 18-49.
``Providence'' once again turned in a divine performance for NBC, lifting the network to an easy win in homes and adults 18-49. Padding the Peacock lead: a stellar showing by ``Homicide,'' which recorded its best homes numbers since Nov. 14, 1997, with the conclusion of another two-part crossover with ``Law & Order.''
It was a bad night for dramas on the other networks. Fox's ``Millennium,'' UPN's ``Legacy'' and CBS' ``Magnificent Seven'' all hit their lowest household ratings ever for original episodes. A special Friday episode of ``The X-Files'' failed to lift Fox out of fourth in homes for the night.
George Clooney's exit from ``ER'' brought a 16% improvement over the series' firstrun 18-49 average this season and rallied NBC's Tuesday lineup to its best numbers of the season. That was despite facing ``Storm of the Century, Part 3,'' which nearly tripled ABC's 18-49 average for that slot and gave ABC its highest non-sports Thursday in that demographic since Nov. 23, 1995.
``Storm'' still finished as the lowest-rated Stephen King-penned multiple-parter in adults 18-49 this decade.
It was a great night for network television, however, as the six broadcasters rallied to attract a combined 77% share of the viewing audience, up 17% from its season-to-date Thursday average. The 200-plus cable networks mustered just 31% of tube watchers, down 18% from its season average on Thursday. It was the worst performance for the wired networks this season, including even Super Bowl Sunday.
The top-rated Wednesday ``20/20'' to date allowed ABC to hover above NBC and its UFO special. ABC's 8:30 p.m. comedy ``Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place'' retained 100% of its ``Dharma & Greg'' adults 18-49 lead-in for the first time, and UPN's ``Star Trek: Voyager'' cruised to its best numbers since Nov. 12, 1997.
CBS slipped to sixth place in adults 18-49 from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. with its Tara Lipinski skating special, giving the network its worst firstrun, in-season slot performance in that demographic in at least three years. The special's audience was among the oldest on-record for one of the Big Three.
ABC topped NBC in adults 18-49 despite the toughest Tuesday ``Dateline'' since June 9. ABC also edged CBS in homes despite a record ``JAG'' rating.
ABC led Feb. 15 results with ``Storm of the Century, Part 2.'' The WB registered its second-highest household rating and third-highest adults 18-49 rating ever for ``7th Heaven,'' up 36% from its season average in that demo. NBC finished its ``To Serve and Protect'' two-parter with a fizzle.
Each household rating point represents about 994,000 homes, or 1% of the country's TV households. Each adults 18-49 rating point represents 1.239 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 time slot involved.