"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" continued its march through the November sweeps race last week, mowing down all programs in its path.
Though there are actually two weeks left to go, the ratings derby is over for all practical purposes, and "Millionaire" host Regis Philbin has won it for ABC. That's because the network announced yesterday that it's extending the run of its unstoppable quiz show for another three nights, ending a week from today instead of this Sunday. Last week, seven consecutive nights of "Millionaire" delivered ABC's most watched week since the week of the Academy Awards in 1998, when "Titanic" mopped up.
Here's a look at the week's princes and paupers:
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." "Millionaire" wasn't a top-10 show last week--it was five of the top 10 shows and seven of the top 15. The Virgin Mary, Arnold Schwarzenegger, leprechauns--nothing could stop Philbin and his mind-numbing multiple-choice show. Only "ER" savior Alan Alda--whom the doc-drama folks are shrewdly writing out of that series (way to go, guys)--was mightier than "Millionaire" last week. Sunday's "Millionaire" was last week's biggest, with an average audience of 25 million, but Thursday's made history when it beat an original episode of NBC's "Frasier." That's the first time in more than 16 years that ABC has smushed an original episode of an NBC sitcom in the Thursday 9 p.m. half-hour.
"Greed." Fox cashed in on Thursday's "Millionaire" mania. Though its game show overlapped ABC's, "Greed" grew enormous once "Millionaire" went dark, and overall it scored about 160 percent more viewers than Fox had been averaging in the Thursday 9 p.m. hour. Pundits will tell you the Fox show did well because it featured America's first million-dollar game show win; here at the TV Column, we think it's because the contestants are much better looking than those on "Millionaire" (see photo).
"WWF Smackdown!" WWF recruited Arnold "I'll Be Back" Schwarzenegger to help it battle Philbin, and the Terminator did not disappoint, locking on to the biggest "Smackdown!" audience yet. (His mother-in-law, Eunice Shriver, however, scored an even bigger audience on Sunday with a movie about the mother of Jesus--also battling ABC's game show.)
"Drew Carey." The live improv version of Carey's ABC sitcom drew its biggest audience in 44 weeks--following "Millionaire," of course.
"The Practice." ABC's Sunday show matched its largest audience ever, beating big-budget movies and minis on CBS and NBC--following "Millionaire," naturally.
"The X-Files." The season's second episode of the Fox paranormal drama beat "Millionaire" among adults 18-49 on Sunday. The only other show to accomplish that feat was Thursday's 8:30 p.m. "Friends."
Any big-budget November sweeps movie or miniseries that aired opposite "Millionaire." Which is to say: Part 2 of NBC's "Leprechauns," which tanked at No. 46; Part 1 of CBS's "Aftershock: Earthquake in New York," which ranked a disappointing No. 22; and NBC's Sunday movie "Mary, Mother of Jesus," which finished in 18th place. These are not the kind of results the nets are used to seeing for their very expensive, highly touted long-form sweeps offerings. It's gotta sting that they were victims of a cheap game show.
"Space Jam." Sure, ABC will tell you that it scored the second-biggest numbers this season for "Wonderful World of Disney." But Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny scrounged up only about half of last week's "WWD" audience for the musical "Annie."
The week's 10 most watched programs--as if you didn't already know--were: NBC's "ER," ABC's Sunday "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and Thursday "Millionaire," ABC's "Monday Night Football," NBC's "Friends," ABC's Monday "Millionaire," Tuesday "Millionaire" and Wednesday "Millionaire," CBS's "Touched by an Angel" and ABC's "Drew Carey."
CAPTION: Air traffic controller Curtis Warren was a contestant on Fox's hair-raising "Greed."