NEW YORK — Just as "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw" was celebrating a second straight win over CBS News Tuesday, thC. Nielsen Co. announced a ratings foul-up that negated NBC's victory last week and tainted this week's win.
A spokesman for the A. C. Nielsen Co. called NBC late Tuesday to report that the ratings for the week ending June 1, which originally had NBC beating CBS in the evening news ratings for the first time since September 1981, were incorrect.
Instead of the outright win with a 10.0 rating, "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw" and "CBS Evening News with Dan Rather" tied with a 9.9 rating.
Nielsen officials also informed NBC that the ratings for the week ending June 8, released earlier Tuesday, also were suspect.
"We're expecting the numbers may fluctuate, but we won't know until next week," an NBC spokesman said.
NBC had celebrated the ratings win last week by popping champagne corks.
"The network news Monday-through-Friday average is based on preliminary data and that changed," explained Nielsen spokeswoman Joanne Laverde. "It happens. It doesn't happen all the time but it happens."
Laverde said the change occurred because of stations pre-empting or rescheduling at an earlier hour the "CBS Evening News" due to CBS coverage of the National Basketball Assn. championship games.
"Between the preliminary numbers and the final (Nielsen) numbers, the drop in that number (NBC from 10.0 to 9.9 rating) is likely due to station clearances," she said.
She said the same problem with station clearances may occur for the week ending June 8, in which CBS aired two NBA championship games.
In the ratings issued Tuesday morning, which now may be revised, only four-tenths of a ratings point separated the No. 1 newscast from the No. 3 newscast for the week ending June 8.
According to A.C. Nielsen Co. figures, "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw" had a 10.4 rating and 22 share, "CBS Evening News with Dan Rather" had a 10.1 rating and 22 share and "ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings" had a 10.0 rating and 21 share.
CBS had said NBC won the week ending June 1 partly because the NBA basketball championship game caused some CBS stations to preempt or shift the news program to an earlier time. The same thing happened the week ending June 8, with 23 West Coast CBS stations making scheduling changes.
Regardless of the foul-up, the ratings have been so close for two weeks that five years after the departure of Walter Cronkite, CBS' almighty dominance seems to be slipping. (Nielsen news ratings for a year ago, the week ending June 9, 1985, which also included an NBA championship game, listed CBS 10.7, NBC 9.5, ABC 9.4)
Given the fact that the performance of ABC's prime-time schedule is less than spectacular this year, the ABC News performance is something to cheer about.
"We are immensely pleased by the gains 'ABC World News Tonight' has made," ABC spokeswoman Elise Adde said.
While NBC celebrated by popping some champagne corks, ABC's celebration may be a bit more low-key.
"Perhaps some of us will go to the cafeteria," Adde said.
With basketball over, next week will be the key test to Rather's staying power, Brokaw's strength and Jennings' gathering steam.
"I'll be interested to see what happens next week," said NBC spokesman Andrew Freedman.