NBC hit a ratings home run last week, as viewers flocked to an unexpected three-hour prime-time overrun of Sunday's "afternoon" National League Championship Series baseball game.
Here's a look at the week's homers and fouls:
Alan Alda. Turns out "ER" didn't need another George Clooneyesque hunk or another shocking story line. It needed Alan Alda, adored by millions young and old for his turn as sarcastic Dr. Hawkeye Pierce of "M*A*S*H." Adding Alda to the "ER" cast last week added 2 million viewers. The studio has signed him for only five episodes and the writers are intent on giving his doctor character Alzheimer's disease--so that he can't possibly return to the ER for more episodes. Smart thinking, guys.
Baseball. Propelled by a rare Sunday win with a six-hour white-knuckle ballgame, NBC scored its biggest weekly audience--15.6 million--since the record-setting June 1998 NBA Finals, featuring Michael Jordan's so-long basketball performance. That 15.6 million is a bigger weekly audience than any network netted all of last season, except the week Fox aired Super Bowl XXXIII.
"Chicago Hope." Just four little letters drove David E. Kelley's struggling CBS drama series to its largest audience in more than a year. Word--which somehow leaked to the press--that Mark Harmon's character would utter the expression "[expletive] happens" on the episode propelled the ratings spike.
CBS's Monday. Women powered CBS to No. 1 on Monday--the first time since October '96 that the eye network has stuck it to ABC on a football Monday. The CBS sitcoms "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Becker" nabbed best-ever numbers in several female demos--and they've got chick drama "Family Law" to thank for that.
"Judging Amy." CBS's new Tuesday drama made it to the week's Top 10 list for the first time and was Tuesday's most watched program for the second consecutive week.
"20/20" Friday. ABC's newsmag owes great thanks to diet pill manufacturer Metabolife, which caused a press kerfuffle by posting on a Web site the entire "20/20" interview with its chief. The intent was to sabotage the story, but instead the advance coverage helped boost "20/20" Friday to its biggest female audience in 40 weeks.
"Jesse." The writers overhauled this series after viewers rejected it last season--and appear to have made it even less appealing. Last week the show celebrated its smallest audience ever for a non-rerun episode, and it becomes the first official entry into the TV Column Losers Hall of Fame.
"Once and Again." ABC's show is losing ground to CBS's in the Tuesday 10 p.m. war of the chick dramas. "Once" posted its smallest audience to date, on both the broadcast network and in its Lifetime cable rerun, where it's down to 801,000 viewers.
"Wasteland" looks headed for the wastebasket after finishing No. 6 in a six-way race Thursday at 9 p.m. The second broadcast of the Gen-X drama scored ABC's smallest audience in its time slot since July '98.
"Ryan Caulfield: Year One." Likely to become "Ryan Caulfield: Year One and Only." The Friday debut of Fox's new Gen-X cop drama was a stinker, scoring the network's smallest audience for original series programming in its time slot since October 1998.
"Harsh Realm." More like . . . oh, why do these networks give shows names that are so easy to take jabs at in ratings columns when they tank? This one's too easy--so we'll just say that episode No. 2 of Chris Carter's new drama series gave Fox its most anemic performance in the Friday 9 p.m. hour with original series programming since May--of 1991.
"Felicity." No matter what WB tells you, this one's quacking like a failure. Last week's was the show's least watched non-rerun episode ever. And this is saying quite a lot, since on Sunday many more people are at home watching TV than on any other night--including Tuesdays, where "Felicity" aired last season.
The week's 10 most watched programs, in order: NBC's "ER," "Friends" and "Frasier"; CBS's "Touched by an Angel" and "Everybody Loves Raymond"; NBC's "Stark Raving Mad," "Law & Order" and "Jesse"; and CBS's "Judging Amy" and "JAG."
CAPTION: In his new role on "ER," Alan Alda drew 2 million extra viewers.