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'Amerika' Debut Drubs Opposition

February 17, 1987|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Boosted by heavy publicity, controversy and criticism, the start of ABC's "Amerika" miniseries easily trounced its Sunday-night opposition, preliminary ratings showed Monday.

The premiere also sparked demonstrations and protests at ABC-affiliated TV stations around the country and drew criticism from the Polish government.

"Amerika" averaged a 42% share of the audience watching TV in 13 major cities, according to A.C. Nielsen Co.'s overnight ratings, made public by ABC.

In contrast, NBC's competing movie in Sunday's 9-11 p.m. time slot, "The Facts of Life Down Under," averaged a 28% share of audience. The CBS competition--"Designing Women," "Nothing Is Easy" and "Hard Copy"--was a distant third, averaging only a 12% share of audience.

In Los Angeles--the nation's second-largest TV market, serving more than 4.5 million homes--"Amerika" averaged a 41% share of audience, while NBC's movie garnered a 28% share and CBS' programs a 9% share.

ABC, using the 13-city returns, projects that 70 million persons saw all or part of "Amerika" on Sunday night, a network spokesman said.

ABC executives declined to predict how they think the show will do when ratings for all seven nights are in. Sources at the network anticipate that the miniseries will average 35%-40% of the national audience, while some advertising agency executives suggest it will be lower than that, averaging a 34% share.

National ratings for the show's premiere may not be available until late today, a Nielsen spokesman said last week.

ABC's seven-part, $41-million miniseries, about life in the United States after a bloodless takeover by the Soviet Union, was expected to do well its first night because of the controversy that preceded the show. But the the controversy didn't ebb with the program's debut. On Sunday night, there were demonstrations both for and against the program from Massachusetts to Southern California.

According to wire service reports, about 25 demonstrators dressed in costumes--including those of Ronald Reagan, Humpty Dumpty and a giant TV set--staged a "die-in" in the lobby of Boston's WCVB-TV. Calling the show "a cultural indoctrination for World War III," the demonstrators were removed from the building and police kept order during the hourlong protest.

Outside ABC headquarters in New York, about 32 members of the leftist Sparticist League protested the broadcast, carrying signs and chanting, "World War III! Brought to you by ABC!" The league also picketed in Washington and Chicago.

Also in Washington, demonstrators rallied outside the studios of WJLA-TV. About 15 Young Republicans from the University of Maryland waved U.S. flags and carried signs reading "Live free or die" and "I'd rather be dead than Red," a WJLA employee told the Associated Press.

About 35 Lithuanian-Americans demonstrated at the Hollywood studios of KABC-TV in support of the show. A spokesman said that Sunday was the 69th anniversary of Lithuanian independence from the Russian Empire in 1918, but the country has been part of the Soviet Union since 1941. He said life in Lithuania resembles what is depicted in "Amerika."

In Warsaw on Monday, the official Polish government newspaper called the miniseries "a political scandal" aimed at stirring up anti-Soviet attitudes. The newspaper Rzeczpospolita, said the goals of the series were "scaring American society, shaping a belief that the Soviet Union is threatening America, and by this to convince people to support military programs forced by the military-industrial complex, including the Strategic Defense Initiative."

The miniseries is airing during a crucial TV ratings "sweeps" period, one of four such periods of intense audience measurement that enable both networks and their affiliates to determine advertising rates they would ask from sponsors.

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