You think you're depressed during the Christmas season? You ought to take a look at the broadcast networks' ratings for the week. Now that's depressed!
CBS won the week, but it wasn't saying much considering it did so with just 11.2 million viewers--its lowest in-season average in nearly two years. Fox equaled its lowest in-season rating in nearly 11 years. NBC hit its second lowest in-season average ever. Even so, NBC was celebrating, because it was actually up 11 percent vs. the same week last year, when it suffered its worst-ever in-season weekly average. NBC got nailed last year when its powerhouse Thursday sked aired on Christmas Eve, traditionally the least watched night of the season.
Here's a look at the week's lows and less-lows:
"WWF Smackdown!" When you think Christmas, you think "Smackdown!," right? Apparently so, if you're a younger guy. While other networks' Thursday programming wilted and the nets blamed the holiday ho-hums, WWF's faux wrestling show snagged 7.2 million viewers--mostly young men--surging past its season average and landing UPN in fourth place for the night, with nearly as many viewers as third-place CBS. "Smackdown!" actually drew a bigger crowd last week than NBC's Christmas Eve airing of the Frank Capra classic "It's a Wonderful Life," which I'm sure is of some terribly interesting cultural significance but I don't want to think about it.
National Geographic rang out the old year on a high note last week as the special "Millennium: Adventures in Time" won Wednesday night for NBC and logged the franchise's biggest audience since February '96--nearly 14 million viewers.
"It's a Wonderful Life." NBC did its best to clobber this Jimmy Stewart flick, running it to death over the holiday season. It started Thanksgiving Day, airing at noon, and scored 7.6 million watchers. In prime time Dec. 19, it took in a bigger haul of 10.5 million. And on Christmas Eve, it managed 7 million viewers, which, miraculously, is on par with last year's Christmas night broadcast. But shouldn't there be a law against abusing a national treasure?
NBC's Thursday. Sure, NBC had a lousy Thursday; sure, only one of NBC's Thursday series made the top 5 list; sure, Thursday's "Stark Raving Mad" tanked at No. 25; sure, CBS had more viewers on Sunday than NBC had on Thursday. But compared with the same Thursday last season, which fell on Christmas Eve, the peacock network was up nearly 70 precent.
"America's Funniest Home Videos." Did ABC viewers mistake it for "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"? Was Richard Kind (of "Spin City" fame) so much better a host than Daisy Fuentes? Or, more likely, did ABC's promise that the return of this very tired video franchise would feature tapes previously banned by ABC censors entice nearly 13 million viewers to tune in, helping its lead-out program, "20/20 Downtown," to its biggest audience ever and catapulting ABC to second place on Thursday night?
"Ally McBeal." The Christmas episode was the week's No. 2 program among the coveted 18-49 gang, behind only ABC's Monday football.
"Time of Your Life." Least watched episode to date. Time to be canceled.
"Beverly Hills, 90210." Last week's was its least watched original episode since November 1990. But how many people even know that this show is still on the air?
"Jesse." TV Column's first Losers Hall of Fame entry continues its losing ways, last week nailing its teensiest audience ever.
ABC's Friday. Boy, did children really not care about ABC's kiddie comedy lineup on Christmas Eve. That included the least watched episodes ever of "Boy Meets World" and "Odd Man Out" and the smallest audiences of the season for "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" and "The Hughleys." Put them all together and you get ABC's least watched Friday--ever.
The week's 10 most watched shows, in order, were: ABC's "Monday Night Football"; CBS's "60 Minutes" and "Everybody Loves Raymond"; NBC's "Frasier"; CBS's Sunday movie "The Marriage Fool" and Monday's "Everybody Loves Raymond" at 8:30; NBC's "ER"; CBS's "Touched by an Angel"; NBC's "Friends"; and CBS's "Becker."