Nbc, As Usual, Wins Weekly Ratings Race

NBC, with the six most-watched programs including the opening chapter of “The Beast” miniseries, handily won the weekly ratings battle as the latest “sweeps” war began.

Based on Peter Benchley’s novel about a monstrous squid imperiling a small Puget Sound town, “The Beast” drew more than 44 million viewers to place third for the week of April 22-28, topped by “ER” and “Seinfeld.”

The next ratings survey from Nielsen Media Research will include figures for the miniseries’ second half, which aired Monday.

“The Beast” represents the kind of big-ticket event networks rely on for sweeps - the three, monthlong periods of intensive ratings measurement that are characterized by spectacular, audience-grabbing events.

Overall, NBC posted an 11.9 average rating and 20 share for the week, according to figures released Tuesday by Nielsen. ABC was second with a 9.6 rating and 16 share.

CBS lost a two-week grip on second place, dropping to third with a 9.2 rating and 16 share. Fox Broadcasting Co., which programs 15 of the 22 prime-time hours, posted a 6.3 rating and 11 share.

Following are the top 20 shows for last week.

The listings include the week’s ranking, with rating for the week, season-to-date rankings in parentheses, and total homes.

An “X” in parentheses denotes one-time-only presentation. A rating measures the percentage of the nation’s 95.9 million TV homes. Each ratings point represents 959,000 households.

1. (1) “ER,” NBC, 22.4, 21.5 million homes 2. (2) “Seinfeld,” NBC, 19.7, 18.9 million homes 3. (24) “NBC Sunday Night Movie: The Beast Pt. 1,” NBC, 18.6, 17.8 million homes 4. (4) “Caroline in the City,” NBC, 18.0, 17.3 million homes 5. (3) “Friends,” NBC, 16.6, 15.9 million homes 6. (8) “Boston Common,” NBC, 14.9, 14.3 million homes 7. (7) “Home Improvement,” ABC, 14.7, 14.1 million homes 8. (11) “Frasier,” NBC, 14.6, 14.0 million homes 9. “ABC Sunday Night Movie: She Woke Up Pregnant,” ABC, 13.4, 12.9 million homes 10. (9) “60 Minutes,” CBS, 13.2, 12.7 million homes 11. (20) “Walker, Texas Ranger,” CBS, 13.1, 12.6 million homes 12. (X) “Murder One,” ABC, 13.0, 12.5 million homes 13. (11) “20/20,” ABC, 12.7, 12.2 million homes 14. “Wings,” NBC, 12.5, 12.0 million homes 15. “John Larroquette Show,” NBC, 12.4, 11.9 million homes 16. “CBS Sunday Movie: Grumpy Old Men,” CBS, 12.3, 11.8 million homes 16. “NewsRadio,” NBC, 12.3, 11.8 million homes 18. “Murder, She Wrote,” CBS, 12.2, 11.7 million homes 19. (16) “NBC Monday Night Movies: Unsolved Mysteries,” NBC, 12.1, 11.6 million homes 20. (X) “31st Country Music Awards,” NBC, 12.0, 11.5 million homes

Vargas to replace Lunden?

Any minute now we can expect an announcement from ABC News that Elizabeth Vargas has joined “Good Morning America” as the news anchor, replacing Morton Dean.

The rumors continue in New York that the former “Dateline NBC” correspondent is in line to eventually replace Joan Lunden, the longtime GMA co-host, whose contract is up in about nine months. Lunden’s powerful agent, Jim Griffin, has apparently talked to NBC News, which could have an anchor opening on its “Dateline” series since Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips are facing four shows a week these days.

Finkel, Walston eye sitcom

The award-winning CBS drama “Picket Fences” may be history, but two of its Emmy-winning actors are teaming again in a pilot for NBC.

Fyvush Finkel, “Picket’s” over-the-top attorney Douglas Wambaugh, and Ray Walston, the show’s irascible Judge Henry Bone, are set to star in the tentatively titled “Mixed Nuts,” a sitcom written and produced by “Picket” creator David E. Kelley.

“Ray and I are thrilled,” Finkel said recently.

The actor was surprised by the sudden gig, which came about following a phone call from Kelley.

“He said, ‘I’ve got a gift for you - I wrote a situation comedy for you and Ray Walston,”’ said Finkel.

The two men will play brothers-in-law; sometimes they get along, sometimes thet don’t. A third, female, role is currently being cast.

“I told them they should get Sharon Stone, but I don’t think they want to pay that much,” Finkel joked.

Networks no longer ‘Friend’-ly

“Friends” copycats are out, old stars are in and the four networks are looking for “high concept” programing, according to the annual prime-time Program Development Report issued by the Paul Schulman Co., a media-buying firm.

“This year we expect that every network will work toward doing what they do best, rather than trying to copy another network’s success,” the report states.

Indeed, the folks behind the study, senior vice president Peter Truzzolino and executive assistant Ann Marie Lollo, predict that CBS will go for a broader audience, that ABC is looking to launch successful all-family comedies like “Home Improvement,” that Fox will try to keep the “edge” on its shows and that NBC will attempt to maintain its momentum.

Some examples of pilots in the works: a series about a teen witch, a show about a man who gets tomorrow’s news today and a 23d-century comedy, “Homeboys in Space.”

According to the report, CBS will be looking to fill 8-1/2 hours of airtime; ABC will need 6-1/2 hours of fresh fare; Fox is on the market for five hours and NBC needs four.

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