While most media attention has been focused this season on the Friday-night showdown between "Dallas" and "Miami Vice," another soap-opera ratings story has been unfolding quietly on Wednesday nights, where once-mighty "Dynasty" has been overtaken by born-again "Magnum, P.I."
Helped by the new lead-in of "The New Mike Hammer," "Magnum" drew a larger audience than "Dynasty" in head-to-head competition last week, ratings from the A.C. Nielsen Co. showed Tuesday.
CBS' "Magnum," the six-year-old private detective series that many industry observers had written off after its audience shriveled by 33% against "The Cosby Show" on Thursdays, was watched in about 14.8 million homes last week, compared to about 14.6 million for ABC's six-year-old serial about the wealthy Carrington family of Denver.
It was the first time since Jan. 6, 1982 that a first-run episode of "Dynasty," once the most popular series on television, had lost its time period to a competing series, according to CBS researchers.
"We're delighted," said B. Donald Grant, president of CBS Entertainment.
He stopped short of predicting that "Magnum" would continue to beat "Dynasty," but he said that he is already looking toward bringing it back next season, if Tom Selleck wants to continue.
Some analysts had criticized CBS at the end of last season for renewing "Magnum" after its ratings had dropped so dramatically. But Grant noted Tuesday that the audience decline had come against NBC's "The Cosby Show"--"one of the biggest hits known to television, ever"--and CBS was willing to gamble that Selleck was still popular enough and the show still good enough to prosper in a different time slot.
"We're certainly ecstatic," said Charles Floyd Johnson, co-executive producer of the Hawaii-based "Magnum." "The ratings are what they are, but we're just happy to be rediscovered and not be under such a cloud of people saying the show is on its last legs."
Officials at ABC and "Dynasty" had no immediate comment on the show's plummeting ratings. Its audience has diminished each week it has been on this season.
"It really has lost the audience and does not seem to be getting it back," said David Poltrack, vice president of research at CBS. That does not bode well for its future, he suggested.
"Once you lose the loyalty in a soap opera, it can drop pretty quickly, as ABC has seen with 'The Colbys,' " he said. "If people stop watching for a couple of weeks and lose track of the story, they can become disinterested."
Grant and Poltrack said that "Magnum" was helped last week by having "The New Mike Hammer" in front of it instead of the two comedies that previously had occupied the 8-9 p.m. slot. "Hammer" delivered a slightly larger and obviously more compatible audience to Selleck's series, they explained.
For "Dynasty's" Joan Collins, Tuesday's ratings brought a double whammy: The first installment of "Monte Carlo," the two-part miniseries that she starred in and helped produce, finished No. 46 for the week, far behind the competition of "Perry Mason" on NBC and "Splash" on ABC.
As for that other soap-opera battle on Friday, "Dallas" continues to outdraw "Miami Vice." Last week the CBS serial had about 3.6 million more homes watching than NBC's police drama.