"Millionaire" Hits Ratings Jackpot

ABC cruises to ratings win and huge sweeps lead thanks to Regis-helmed game show

By Bridget Byrne Nov 24, 1999 12:35 AMTags
Like that IRS guy who just won a million bucks from Regis, ABC is in the money.

The Alphabet Network scored another weekly Nielsen ratings victory and the promise of overall honors for the all-important November sweeps, thanks almost entirely to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

Six of the consecutive seven nights of Millionaire were among the week's Top 10 programs (the network's Monday Night Football also cracked the list). All told, an average 16.2 million viewers per night watched ABC, more than 2.6 million more than second place NBC (which still leads the season ratings race, and also is first in the advertiser-friendly 18-49 demo).

To get an idea of how huge Millionaire is, the show clipped the wings of CBS' Sunday night juggernaut and Top 10 fixture Touched by an Angel (the show scored its lowest rating since 1994, finishing in 21st place for the week) and steamrolled over NBC's Thursday night Must-See stalwart Frasier. The only thing the Regis-hosted quiz show couldn't beat was ER, which once again finished at No. 1 (the two shows didn't compete head-to-head, however.)

Overall, ABC enjoyed its highest, non-Oscar viewership week in two years. Even Barbara Walters benefited from the game show bump. On Friday, when that $1 million prize was dished out to John Carpenter, Walters snagged her biggest audience on 20/20 since January with her exclusive interview of the ailing Dudley Moore.

The only problem is, ABC can't keep Millionaire on the schedule forever, and its regular roster of shows isn't going to hit the ratings jackpot. For instance, the network programmed Millionaire an hour earlier Sunday in the hopes viewers would stay around for a look-see at the tanking rookie detective series Snoops, which had been shelved during the previous two weeks of sweeps. The move was a flop, however, with more than half the audience tuning out the David E. Kelley private eye show. Snoops languished in fourth place for the night (and 57th overall), behind CBS's TV movie Sarah Plain and Tall: Winter's End (ninth), NBC's millennium bomb Y2K (27th) and Fox's The X-Files (31st).

The weekly results lined up like this: ABC with a 10.0 rating and a 16 share, NBC at 9.3/15, CBS at 8.8/14 and Fox at 6.6./11. (Each rating point represents just over 1 million households; the share is the total number of turned-on sets tuned to a particular show.)

The Top 10 programs, according to Nielsen Media Research:

1. ER (NBC), 19.5/32
2. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire--Monday (ABC), 16.7/27
3. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire--Thursday (ABC), 16.0/24
4. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire--Tuesday (ABC), 15.8/24
5. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire--Sunday (ABC), 15.5/23
6. Friends (NBC), 14.8/24
7. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire--Wednesday (ABC), 14.723
8. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire--Friday (ABC), 13.8/23
9. Sunday Movie: Sarah Plain and Tall: Winter's End (CBS), 13.7/21
10. Monday Night Football: Jets at Patriots (ABC), 13.4/22