Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer won Wednesday for CBS, Charlie Brown and his puny Christmas tree won Friday for CBS, and--guess what--CBS won the final week of the November sweeps race. Ho, ho, ho.
Here's a look at the week's good cheer and humbug:
"Tuesdays With Morrie." More people watched Jack Lemmon's "Oprah Winfrey Presents" movie on Sunday than any other program last week--22.5 million. Too bad ABC pulled "Morrie" out of its November sweeps schedule; there would have been less of that "one-trick-pony" talk at the other networks about ABC's sweeps win. "Morrie" delivered the network's biggest audience for a movie in the Sunday 9-11 p.m. time period in about two years. Since ABC hasn't aired a regular Sunday 9-11 p.m. movie in a year and a half, that's not saying too much. More important, "Morrie" fell slightly short of the all-time "Oprah Winfrey Presents" ratings-getter, "Before Women Had Wings," which snagged an audience of more than 28 million in fall '97.
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." In its 26th rerun, animated "Rudolph" was the second-most-watched program in America last week--its highest ranking since at least 1987--with an average of 19.2 million fans. "Rudolph" easily won its time slot not just among viewers overall, but in all those hot demographics advertisers obsess over-- including adults 18-49, where, I might add, it performed better than original episodes of "The X-Files," "The Drew Carey Show," "Dharma and Greg," "Just Shoot Me," "Will & Grace" and "Everybody Loves Raymond," among many others.
"Garth Brooks and the Magic of Christmas." People apparently found Garth Brooks as Kris Kringle a lot less scary than Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines. The perennial NBC special-ist's first-ever holiday special got his biggest audience in about four years--15.8 million--glad tidings for Brooks after the dismal performance of his now-I'm-a-rock-star Chris Gaines special.
"Christmas in Rockefeller Center." Oh goody, another chance for NBC to take a nice New York City holiday tradition and produce it into the ground. The network's second annual effort to use the Rockefeller Center tree-lighting ceremony as a pretext to hawk "Today" show stars averaged 16.2 million viewers--up 30 percent compared with last year's broadcast. Look for more of the same next year.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas." After 34 years on the air, the baldheaded boy was bigger than Tom Cruise last week. What more can I say?
"Jerry Maguire." Fox's broadcast debut of the Tom Cruise movie on Wednesday nailed 11.4 million viewers, the network's biggest Wednesday audience this season except for baseball playoffs.
"7th Heaven." Whenever WB's Dad's-a-preacher drama "tackles the frightening trend of [fill in the blank with something very bad]," it does a big number--and those episodes always seem to fall in a sweeps period. Last week's, which "tackle[d] the frightening trend of huffing" (that's paint-sniffing, for all you old folk out there), scored 9 million viewers--its biggest audience since last season's finale, during the May sweeps, in which son Simon discovered French kissing--another frightening trend--and also on par with the Dad's-a-preacher-and-has-been-shot episode during the November sweeps of '98.
"Barbara Walters Presents the 10 Most Fascinating People of 1999." Walters has still got it. Her one-hour Tuesday 10 p.m. special posted 14.3 million viewers--a bigger audience than any but the premiere episode of the time slot's regular occupant, the so-called hit "Once and Again."
UPN. It beat WB for the first time this TV season on the strength of two "Star Trek" shows and two WWF wrestling shows. But how many times can UPN go to that programming well? Please don't say every week.
"JAG" on CBS scored its biggest audience ever. Some things just cannot be explained.
Fox News Channel's prime-time coverage of the GOP debate. FNC bagged its biggest audience ever for a single telecast--1.62 million--on Thursday with "The Republicans: A New Hampshire Forum."
"Amy Grant: A Christmas to Remember." The TV Column demands the return of Kathie Lee Gifford's annual Christmas special to CBS. Her replacement, Grant, drew only 8.5 million viewers on Saturday night--a night CBS owns, I might add. Kathie Lee, on her worst CBS Christmas special day, managed about 4 million better than that. All together now: Kath-ie! Kath-ie! Kath-ie!
"ER." Here's a great idea for NBC: Follow the eagerly anticipated baby-birthing episode of "ER," which attracted nearly 31 million viewers, with a rerun that will plunge the show to 13 million, allowing "JAG"--a show NBC canceled years ago--to become the highest-rated drama series for the first time ever.
"Sports Illustrated's 20th Century Sports Awards." Nobody cared, and the show came in nearly 20 percent short of CBS's average in the Thursday 9-11 p.m. time period.
"Jesse." Least-watched episode of the NBC show, but you ain't seen nothin' yet. Just wait until "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" returns to the time slot next month.
"Lateline." You may have seen Showtime's full-page ad in TV Guide: "Critics Loved It. NBC Killed It. We Saved It." They were wrong. The cable debut of the former NBC sitcom attracted just 373,000 viewers Saturday at 11:30 p.m., losing 43 percent of its lead-in audience of 654,000, and about a third of Showtime's season average in the time slot.
The week's 10 most-watched programs, in order: ABC's "Tuesdays With Morrie"; CBS's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "JAG"; ABC's "Monday Night Football"; NBC's "Friends"; CBS's "60 Minutes"; NBC's "Frasier"; CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The Test of Love"; and ABC's "A Rosie Christmas."
CAPTION: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" ratings glowed, even among adults.