And the winner is … “Seinfeld.” Sort of.
Final Nielsen ratings for the 30-week 1994-95 TV season were released Tuesday, and NBC’s Thursday-night centerpiece comedy topped the chart for the first time. Jerry and his pals were watched by an average of 19.6 million households each week.
Another NBC Thursday series, “ER,” was second, the highest-ranked rookie drama in a generation, besting the long-standing record of “Charlie’s Angels,” which finished fifth in 1976-77. ABC’s “Home Improvement,” “Grace Under Fire” and “Monday Night Football” rounded out the top five. Monday football is a perennial ratings winner, but this was its best showing in five years.
Speaking of perennials, CBS’ “60 Minutes” finished sixth, a drop from its top spot two years ago and its No.2 finish last year, but still its 17th consecutive year in the top 10. “NYPD Blue” moved from 19th in ‘93-94 to seventh, boosting its ratings by 19 percent.
ABC won the network ratings race, besting NBC by an average of nearly 500,000 households in any given prime-time period. CBS was badly disappointed by its third-place finish, but Fox, in fourth, was more than happy with its ratings growth.
“Friends” (No. 8), another NBC Thursdaynight freshman, joined “ER” in the top 10, making this the second year in a row that two new series cracked that rarefied atmosphere. Last year, “Grace” and “Frasier” accomplished the feat, the first top-10 freshmen pair in the ‘90s.
But “Frasier” moved from NBC’s killer Thursday to Tuesdays this year to battle “Home Improvement,” and dropped to 15th for year. And therein lies a story.
“Home Improvement,” not “Seinfeld,” should be considered No. 1, ABC Entertainment President Ted Harbert told a news conference here.
He invoked the football rationale. Because it battled stiffer competition, “Home Improvement” should get the nod, and, for that matter, “Roseanne” (No. 9) should be ranked higher than “ER,” which has only two newsmagazines for competition.
That argument might work on the sports pages.
But he also invoked the eyeball count. About 600,000 more households on average may have watched “Seinfeld,” but nearly two million more people watched “Home Improvement,” which attracts children as well as adults.
“Household ratings are a result of archaic technology,” said Harbert, whose network did not offer any information about those ratings. “… Houses don’t have eyes. People do.”
In the beginning, Nielsen could count only households, and those are the rankings that have always been available to the general public.
But now, the ratings company can just about count the hairs on its viewers’ noses. Why not reflect that specificity in “our obsession with lists and rankings?” Harbert asked.
Both ABC and Fox, which also held a news conference here, stressed the business value of their younger audience. Most advertising is sold based not on the number of households that watch a show, nor even the number of people, but rather the number of people between the ages of 18 and 49.
Fox, whose numbers look pretty measly on the household charts, actually beat CBS for the season among viewers 18 to 49 - the first time it has beat any network for a full season in any sort of prime-time category, other than hourly babe-and-hunk quotient.
The ratings for Fox’s “The X-Files” (71st) grew more than those for any other show (42 percent), and Fox also showed a 7 percent improvement in total households, the most for any network. NBC was up 5 percent and ABC down 3 percent.
CBS’ ratings fell by more than one-fifth, contributing to an overall drop in network viewing of 5 percent.
In what may be an unprecedented failure, CBS did not improve its ratings from last season in any of the 44 half-hour periods that make up prime time. Its only bright spot was the midseason replacement comedy “Cybill,” the network’s highest-ranked rookie at No. 22.
NBC has not held an end-of-season gathering since 1992, when it declared, in the middle of a ratings slump, that the season didn’t count. Now, running a close second, it’s unable to respond to ABC’s claims that its top competition is a onenight wonder.
NBC’s Thursday, which included “Mad About You” (11th) and a combination of the nowvanished “Madman of the People” (12th) and the new “Hope & Gloria” (14th), is the strongest night on television, almost doubling (17 million to 8.9 million) the average number of viewing households of its next competitor, CBS.
But ABC showed much more balance, winning Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights, while CBS took the weekend.
Nevertheless, ABC, thanks to the growing popularity of “Lois & Clark,” won Sunday’s battle for young adults. That show finished tied for 58th in household ratings, opposite CBS’ venerable “Murder, She Wrote,” which tied for ninth.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter