Regis Philbin led ABC to a win last week as host of the surprise hit "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" He'd done as much for the network the week before--the first week of the game show's two-week run. Advice to Regis: It's been about 2 1/2 years since ABC won two consecutive weeks in the prime-time ratings race. Ask for a lot more money to come back and host the show in November.
Here's a look at the week's Philbins and non-Philbins:
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" A trivia show produced on a shoestring budget commanded the Nos. 1 through 4 slots in the week's top-10 list. Arguably the most successful summer replacement series in decades, it more than doubled its audience from its first broadcast to its 13th on Sunday, when it nabbed 22 million viewers. Best of all, it appealed to young viewers; game shows rarely appeal to young viewers. ABC celebrated by running its programming president, Jamie Tarses, out of the company.
Miss Teen USA Pageant. Airing on the oldest-skewing broadcast network, the trophy show was nonetheless the week's No. 1 show among teenagers. The pageant actually scored its best teen rating since '95. And now, a trivia question--for no money: When was the last time CBS had the week's No. 1 program among teens? Was it (a) Never. (b) Any week that "Petticoat Junction" aired in the '60s. (c) The week Madonna was profiled on "60 Minutes." Or (d) The week ending June 27, 1999, when CBS's Wednesday movie was "Now and Then" starring Demi Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, Rita "Mrs. Tom Hanks" Wilson and Melanie Griffith. (If you chose d, you were right.)
"WWF Smackdown!" Despite its TV-14 rating, about 1.2 million kids between the ages of 2 and 11 tuned in to the wrestling show. The show's total haul of 6.2 million was UPN's biggest Thursday audience ever.
NBC's Tuesday. For the second time in as many weeks, NBC bagged its biggest Tuesday audience of the summer, averaging 10 million viewers--not bad, considering the game show competition. And Tuesday's 9:30 p.m. "Will & Grace" was the week's most-watched sitcom.
"Die Hard 3." ABC had Regis Philbin and trivia, but Fox had Bruce Willis and pyrotechnics, and with them won Saturday night for the first time in eight months and an audience 61 percent better than the network's summer average on the night.
NFL on Fox. Sunday's Denver Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys game scored Fox's biggest audience ever for a preseason NFL telecast.
ABC's Sunday. How can you have the summer's most-watched single broadcast--22 million viewers strong--and fail to win the night? You schedule a rerun of the direct-to-video movie "Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves" from 7 to 9 p.m., that's how. CBS won the night by appealing to older viewers.
NBC's Thursday. Not a single show from NBC's Thursday powerhouse prime time made it to last week's top-10 list. Last time that happened was the week ending Jan. 3, when New Year's Eve fell on a Thursday and not even "Friends" fans stayed home. Despite the game show on ABC, preseason football on CBS and guy-magnet "WWF Smackdown!" debuting on UPN, NBC still managed a nightly win among the adults 18 to 49 that advertisers chase.
"Suddenly Susan." NBC's Monday sitcom suffered its smallest audience ever. Even made "Veronica's Closet" look good.
U.S. Gymnastics Championship. Who'd have thought that a gymnastics special--a viewer fave during Olympics broadcasts--could pull in NBC's smallest audience this summer in the Saturday 8 to 9 p.m. hour? NBC insiders say gymnastics gets more popular the closer we get to the summer Olympic Games and less popular the further away you get. So why air it?
The week's 10 most-watched programs, in order, were: ABC's Sunday "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"; Thursday's "Millionaire"; Tuesday's "Millionaire"; Friday's "Millionaire"; CBS's "60 Minutes"; Wednesday's "Millionaire"; CBS's "Touched By an Angel"; ABC's Monday NFL preseason football game; and NBC's Monday "Dateline" and Tuesday's 9:30 p.m. broadcast of "Will & Grace."
CAPTION: Michael Shutterly holds a check for $500,000 he won last week on ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?," hosted by Regis Philbin.