Pity The Reporters Who Cover Television. Today they will sit through three hours of phone news conferences, listening to suits from ABC, CBS and NBC spin the November sweeps ratings.
That's three consecutive hours of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"-speak. ABC has an unstoppable lead in the November race, which actually doesn't end until tomorrow. It will be ABC's first sweeps win since 1994. But CBS and NBC probably will argue that the November sweeps derby was tainted because ABC won it based solely on the performance of its hit quiz show, and that show isn't on the network's regular schedule.
(Right, like the Virgin Mary is a regular on NBC, and Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Ricky Martin are on CBS.)
ABC, meanwhile, was trying like mad yesterday to dot all the i's and cross all the t's on a deal to bring back "Millionaire" on a regular basis so it could announce those plans during today's phone hug with The Reporters Who Cover Television and knock the stuffing out of NBC and CBS's spin.
ABC wasn't talking about those plans yesterday, but "Millionaire" host Regis Philbin recently said on his syndicated morning show, "Live With Regis & Kathie Lee," that the game show would be back in January. Waving goodbye on the final night, last Wednesday, Philbin said only, "See you next year!" but the show's executive producer told the Associated Press that Rege's sign-off originally was supposed to say, "See you in January."
Whenever it comes back, it's expected to air multiple times a week, as it has during its two runs to date, in August and during the November sweeps race.
Running it so often may shorten "Millionaire's" life span, but ABC has little choice; all of the other broadcast networks are racing to get similar quiz shows on the air--Fox already has one called "Greed," and if ABC doesn't run the genre into the ground with "Millionaire" and at least get to make hay while the sun shines, the other nets will do it for them.
Among the November sweeps victims of ABC's hit quiz show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" is The Artist Who Is Perpetually Doing Her Farewell Performance, formerly known as Celine Dion.
T.A.W.I.P.D.H.F.P.'s second CBS special, "Celine Dion: All the Way," didn't go all the way ratings-wise, scaring up just 12.5 million viewers at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve. Quite a slip for the singing sensation, who one year ago mustered 16 million fans for her first CBS special--and that one hadn't been highly hyped as her last performance before she begins a self-imposed two-year hiatus.
Dion's numbers were also kinda skimpy compared with the 18 million who tuned in for CBS's Shania Twain music special the next night, Thanksgiving, at 8. And it was only on par with Ricky Martin's audience of 12 million for his CBS music special on Friday.
But neither Twain nor Martin had to compete against Regis Philbin-hosted "Millionaire." For that matter, when CBS first scheduled Dion's special, neither did she. ABC decided only at the last minute to extend its run of the hit quiz show for three more days last week, through Wednesday. That left Dion's much-touted so-long show running smack into "Millionaire's" so-long show. Viewers apparently preferred saying so long to Philbin; "Millionaire" averaged an astounding 30 million viewers--its biggest audience ever.
So, CBS has decided to rerun Dion's one-hour special this Saturday for adoring Dion fans who couldn't resist Philbin and can't program their VCRs. Her farewell show was taped at New York's newly restored Radio City Music Hall and also featured performances by Gloria Estefan and 'N Sync and Dion singing a duet with Frank Sinatra.
This is not to be confused with Dion's Dec. 5 final appearance on "A Rosie Christmas" on ABC, her Dec. 6 final appearance on the CBS special "And So This Is Christmas," her swan song appearance on NBC's "The Tonight Show" on Dec. 9 or her this-time-I-really-mean-it so-long show-up on Rosie O'Donnell's syndicated show on Dec. 13.
Another victim of "Millionaire" hasn't even aired yet. NBC has quietly pulled a large portion of "The 10th Kingdom," the 10-hour miniseries it had planned for the February sweeps, out of that derby after watching its similarly themed miniseries "Leprechauns" wilt opposite "Millionaire."
"10th Kingdom" will instead begin on the final Sunday and Monday of the February sweeps race and will continue out of the derby, sources say.
CBS President Leslie Moonves, testifying in Los Angeles yesterday at the NAACP's hearing on the lack of diversity in television, found himself fielding questions about his recent visit with Pope John Paul II in Vatican City, where he gave the pontiff a video of the new CBS movie about Jesus and Mary. Moonves, who calls himself "a nice Jewish kid from Brooklyn," said he has some great pictures of the meeting, reports The Post's Sharon Waxman. "I'm taking down my Clinton pictures," he said. "I got better ones now."
CAPTION: Celine Dion's recent CBS special with Gloria Estefan, right, will rerun Saturday at 9 p.m.