WJLA snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the November sweeps race, somehow managing not to be the most watched station of the prime-time ratings derby even though "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" slaughtered all its competitors for 18 nights. Don't get me wrong; the huge "Millionaire" push improved the ABC station's prime-time fortunes considerably compared with last November, just not enough to pass CBS's WUSA, which took prime time in this market.

Yes, here in our nation's capital, where live the leaders of the free world, the big November sweeps stories were inane game shows, legal-system mockeries, misogynistic faux wrestling--and the local news. Makes you proud.

Here's a look at the Washington market's sweeps winners and losers.

WINNERS

WUSA's prime time. Though ABC's "Millionaire" accounted for eight of the top 10 prime-time broadcasts during the November sweeps in our market, and 12 of the top 15, CBS's WUSA nabbed the top spot in prime time. Granted, Channel 9 beat Channel 7 by just 400,000 homes (viewer figures weren't available at press time). But any win opposite the "Millionaire" station is impressive.

Regis Philbin. Besides mopping up most of the top-10 action in our market on "Millionaire," Rege's ayem talk show, "Live With Regis & Kathie Lee," improved WJLA's 9 a.m. ratings by a whopping 243 percent. Last November, the station had suffered with Howie Mandel's talker in that time slot.

WJLA game shows. Meanwhile, Channel 7's game show fever wasn't confined to "Millionaire." At 10 a.m., it climbed 80 percent compared with last November's "Hollywood Squares"; at 10:30 a.m. it soared 175 percent with "Family Feud"; at 7 p.m. "Wheel of Fortune" improved the station by 6 percent; and at 7:30 p.m., it was up 23 percent with "Jeopardy!"

Judge shows. WTTG and WBDC won in court during the sweeps. "Judge Judy," the mother of all judge shows, got WTTG back in the 5 p.m. game, with 82 percent more households than the station scored in the time slot last November with "Living Single" and "Married . . . With Children" reruns--and a couple thou better than WJLA's competing 5 p.m. newscast.

Earlier in the day, WTTG's "Judge Joe" delivered 64 percent more households at 11 a.m., and "Divorce Court" was up 5 percent. WBDC also scored with its legal mockeries: At noon "Judge Mathis" improved the station's fortunes by 23 percent, following which "People's Court" upped Channel 50's performance 33 percent against last November.

"WWF Smackdown!" WDCA was Washington's most improved station in prime time--up 15 percent--thanks largely to UPN's faux wrestling program. This was before the World Wrestling Federation toned it down in order to get a TV-PG content rating and Coke back on board as an advertiser.

WRC newscasts. The NBC station continued to be No. 1 in the morning as well as at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. and took first place at 4 p.m. from WUSA, by an extremely slim 2,700 homes.

All early-a.m. local news. Everybody was up from 5 to 7 a.m. in a comparison of November '99 and '98. WRC (70,050 homes) grew 38 percent, WUSA (65,600) boosted its households by 6 percent, WJLA (49,000) got a 21 percent shot in the ratings, and WTTG (36,800) climbed 10 percent.

"Maury Povich." WTTG's Povich replaced WUSA's Montel Williams as the No. 2 talk show at 9 a.m. in our market--both behind "Regis & Kathie Lee." Ironically, last November the Fox station had aired Rege and Kathie Lee's show in Maury's slot, where it averaged 44,000 homes; on WJLA last month it averaged 70,000. You see, stations really do have a demographic profile of their own, and Regis and Kathie Lee do not fit WTTG's--they fit WJLA's.

"Ricki Lake." WBDC attracted 162 percent more homes at 9 a.m. than last November by losing "Forgive and Forget" in favor of Lake's teen-targeting talker.

LOSERS

WTTG's prime time. Last November, the Fox station won prime time in our market; this year it came in fourth among the Big Four stations here as the Fox network's new prime-time schedule sank like a stone. Is there any Fox station in America happier that the network last week killed off "Action" lead character Peter Dragon, ensuring the show will never be back? Don't think so.

WBDC's prime time. Some returning programs did not score well on our local WB stations. Told you it was a mistake to cut off "Felicity" star Keri Russell's hair.

WJLA's evening newscasts. At 5, 6 and 11 p.m. the station's newscasts are down by teen percentages compared with last November. Lesson learned: "Millionaire," which aired at 8 or 8:30 each night, didn't do much for ABC stations' cash cows . . . er, newscasts. No wonder suits at various stations were clamoring for the game show to be moved to 10 p.m.

WTTG's 10 p.m. news. Down 16 percent, coinciding with its prime-time misfortunes.

The top 10 prime-time programs of the November sweeps race in the Washington market, in order, were:

WRC's "ER"; WJLA's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"; WUSA's "60 Minutes"; WRC's "Law & Order" and "Friends"; WUSA's "Touched by an Angel"; WRC's "Frasier;" WUSA's Sunday movie; and WJLA's "Monday Night Football" and "The Practice."