ESPN 5 . . . er, ABC won prime time last week thanks to three nights of football and 25 hours of Peter Jennings. The alphabet network not only took the week, it also posted its biggest win among the coveted 18-49 crowd in nearly five years. And, what's this? Geezer-network CBS beat NBC among 18-49ers?

Here's a look at the week's fireworks and meltdowns:


ABC 2000. The Jennings-a-thon drew ABC's biggest prime-time audience on New Year's Eve in nine years--18.6 million viewers. The network's coverage, ratingwise, finished light-years ahead of its competition. NBC's prime-time millennium coverage scored just 9.6 million, and CBS's exclusive broadcast of the millennium festivities on the Mall here drew only 8.6 million. In cable, CNN's coverage logged 2.7 million viewers, while MSNBC got half a million viewers and Fox News Channel 570,000 viewers.

"Beyond the Prairie." You maybe are thinking, therefore, that Peter Jennings was last week's biggest cheese. You'd be wrong. That would be Laura Ingalls Wilder. CBS's Sunday movie "Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder" was last week's most watched program, beating the prime-time portion of ABC's New Year's Eve coverage by more than 4 million viewers. Even more impressive, "Beyond the Prairie" ranked No. 3 for the week among viewers in the coveted 18-49 age bracket. No entertainment program has accomplished this feat for CBS in at least six years. And, for CBS's usually very-old-skewing Sunday movie franchise to do it is a miracle. In fact, thanks to the Wilder flick, CBS actually had a handful more viewers in the demographic last week than NBC. It's the first time since NBC launched "Friends" and "ER" in the fall of '94 that CBS has topped it in the demo except during Olympics coverage. Can a Laura Ingalls Wilder series be far behind?

"Touched by an Angel." Fair enough, you say; Jennings was the No. 2 cheese of the week. Sorry. That would be the lovely Ann-Margret, whose guest-star gig on CBS's "Touched by an Angel" put that show in the No. 2 spot for the week--the highest ranking in the history of the touchy-feely drama.

ABC's Saturday night. ABC nabbed its biggest Saturday night audience since Game 1 of the 1995 World Series. Duh, the network dumped its loser Saturday movie and replaced it with the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl.

"Cosby." Nothing like death to draw viewers. Cosby's CBS sitcom turned over its entire Wednesday 8 p.m. half-hour last week to pay fitting tribute to cast member Madeline Kahn, who died in early December of cancer. More viewers watched her tribute than had watched her perform in any of the last few episodes in which she appeared this season. The show won its time slot for the first time this season.

"Killers in the Water/Danger in Our Skies." Perfect pre-Y2K programming boosted UPN to its most watched Tuesday since March '98.


NBC's week. Least watched Monday of the season. Ditto Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. With no good news to tout about last week's ratings, poor NBC stayed off the subject altogether, instead putting out a news release about its performances for the season to date, quarter and month of December. Ouch!

"Jurassic Park." You don't counterprogram bowl games with a Steven Spielberg dinosaur movie, guys, you counter it with a 1992 chick flick starring the once-hunky Kevin Costner. CBS's umpteenth rerun of "The Bodyguard" whipped NBC's umpteenth rerun of "Jurassic Park" and boosted CBS to its highest-rated Saturday of the season.

"Kennedy Center Honors" lost nearly 2 million viewers compared with last year's show, though its audience of 10.9 million was still comfortably ahead of '97's worst-ever 7.4 million. Wonder how many more folks would tune in if CBS actually let the honorees say a word or two.

"it's like, you know . . ." It's gone, you know, after airing its least watched original episode ever.

The week's 10 most watched programs, in order, were: CBS's Sunday movie "Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder," "Touched by an Angel" and "60 Minutes"; ABC's "Monday Night Football"; ABC's seven-minute post-Rose Bowl game show, which I'm thinking really shouldn't count; the prime-time New Year's Eve portion of ABC's millennium coverage, and the Orange Bowl; Fox's Sunday 8:30 p.m. broadcast of "The Simpsons"; NBC's "Frasier"; CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond"; and if, like me, you don't count that seven-minute "show" after the Rose Bowl, NBC's "Friends."

CAPTION: Lots to smile about: Meredith Monroe and Richard Thomas in a winner for the week, CBS's "Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder."