Little Orphan Annie and Regis Philbin were ABC's secret weapons last week, serving up the network's first weekly win of the new TV season. In fact, ABC hasn't seen a week like last week since March--and then it took Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg (at the Academy Awards).
Here's a look at the leapin' or limping lizards for week No. 7 of the TV season:
"Annie." More than 26 million viewers tuned in to ABC's "Wonderful World of Disney" remake of the musical about the comic strip orphan--"WWD's" biggest audience since it broadcast a remake of the musical "Cinderella" two years ago--from the same producers, by the way. By its final 30 minutes, nearly 30 million people were tuned to "Annie."
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Regis Philbin returned in triumph to put the kibosh on all those nonbelievers who had insisted his hokey quiz show was a summer fluke that would surely wilt when confronted with the brilliance of big-budget sweeps extravaganzas--like Sunday's "Shake, Rattle & Roll" on CBS and "The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns" on NBC. Instead, the Mighty Philbin recruited just under 26 million followers to "Millionaire"--its biggest audience ever--sending both highly hyped miniseries to the Losers' heap. Philbin's bounty spread to the show that followed, heaping upon "The Practice" its biggest crowd ever. Bet ABC suits are now wishing they were running one-hour versions of "Millionaire" all 15 nights.
"Ally McBeal." The Fox series scored its biggest audience ever--16.1 million viewers--with an episode that featured Calista Flockhart and Lucy Liu making out in the office and groping on a dance floor, and Portia de Rossi being spanked with her hairbrush. Writer-creator David E. Kelley must be so proud. Too bad the November sweeps race didn't start last Monday, though it was Nov. 1, but on Thursday night. And will somebody tell the scheduling guys over at Fox?
"Greed." It's true that Fox's shameless "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" knockoff lured only about 9 million viewers to that network's Thursday night. But Fox has been averaging only about 5.6 million viewers on Thursday nights with series this season, so this one's a winner, proving that rip-offs can pay off in TVdom.
"The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns." Only the budget was big on this NBC miniseries about battling leprechauns and fairies. Sunday's opener averaged 15.8 million viewers and settled for 15th place in the weekly rankings. The audience got even smaller--12.4 million--for Part 2 of this big-budget special-effects mini, on Monday. During last November's sweeps, NBC's miniseries "The Temptations" opened to the tune of about 23 million on a Sunday night.
"Shake, Rattle & Roll." Another victim of Philbin-mania, Part 1 of CBS's rock-and-roll miniseries about a make-believe group called the HartAches proved to be just that for the network, falling to 28th place for the week with only 13.2 million viewers. And, because CBS this season turned its Tuesday movie into its Wednesday movie, Part 2 of "Shake" doesn't air until tonight, which is sure to cost it some viewers.
The week's 10 most watched programs, in order, were: NBC's "ER"; ABC's "Annie" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"; NBC's "Friends," ABC's "Monday Night Football"; NBC's "Frasier"; CBS's "60 Minutes"; ABC's "The Practice"; NBC's "Jesse"; and Fox's "The X-Files."
CAPTION: Regis Philbin, host of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."