CBS, which only 18 months ago was the last place network, totally dominated the competition last month with its Winter Olympic broadcasts. It won the February sweeps ratings period by the largest margin since the days before the proliferation of cable television channels.
The number of CBS sweeps viewers was 27 percent larger than those watching NBC, which finished second for the 28-day period that ended Wednesday.
CBS had a 16.7 rating and a 26 percent share of the viewing audience. NBC finished with a 13.1 average rating and a 21 share, while ABC was third with a 12.1 rating and a 19 percent share.
Each ratings point represents 921,000 homes. A share is the percent of televisions in use tuned to a specific program.
The across-the-board impact of the Olympic boost on other CBS and affiliate programming is significant. "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather," which has been struggling in the ratings, showed its first gain in more than a year. Several parts of the CBS schedule gained in February. The numbers should put to rest speculation about whether or not CBS got its money out of the games.
Not surprisingly, the network attributed its success to more than the Olympics. "While CBS' extraordinary performance was enhanced by the Olympic Winter Games, CBS was also the winner on the basis of regularly scheduled programs and regular series programs," said David Poltrack, a senior vice president.
CBS did have three of the 10 highest-rated regular series for the month -- "60 Minutes," which finished first with an audience of about 22 million homes for each of four broadcasts; "Murphy Brown," which finished fourth with an audience of 18 million homes for each of two broadcasts; and "Designing Women," which was seen in 16 million homes on the two nights it ran for a 10th place finish. Even after the Olympic performance is subtracted, CBS is still solidly the No. 1 network. NBC is second. And ABC has fallen so far into last place in prime time that it is starting to affect other parts of the day. ABC's "World News Tonight" with Peter Jennings, the longtime ratings leader, was down 12 percent or about a million TV households from a year ago.
ABC raised more eyebrows yesterday, when President Robert Iger, the man who canceled "thirtysomething" and "China Beach" last year, announced that the network has bought "Matlock" and would make it part of its regular lineup next fall. "Matlock," which stars Andy Griffith as an Atlanta lawyer, is in its final contract year at NBC where it has been a back-up series.
Parts of the day that showed gains for CBS during February included: daytime, which was up 7 percent; the morning program, which was up 17 percent; and late night, which was up 44 percent from a year ago. Most of late night in February consisted of an Olympics wrap-up featuring Pat O'Brien.