NBC's "A Different World" continued to run strong in its hallowed time slot behind the program that spawned it, "The Cosby Show," but the audience for Dolly Parton's new variety series on ABC plunged 30% in the second week of the fall television season, ratings from the A. C. Nielsen Co. showed Tuesday.
"A Different World," the college comedy starring Lisa Bonet, remained the highest-rated new program of the season, placing second behind "The Cosby Show" for the second week in a row as NBC again easily outdistanced CBS and ABC in the prime-time race.
It was tough going for most other new shows, however: Two new Saturday entries from CBS, "Everything's Relative" and "Leg Work," debuted near the bottom of the chart (Nos. 70 and 73, respectively), joining such other first-year shows as "Jake and the Fatman," "Full House," "The Law and Harry McGraw," "I Married Dora" and "Once a Hero."
ABC's "thirtysomething" fared better in its premiere last Tuesday, finishing 25th among the week's 84 programs, but its audience was only two-thirds of that for its lead-in, the hit "Moonlighting," which ranked fifth.
Even the newcomers that got off to good starts the previous week suffered significant declines. "Dolly" fell the most: from an audience of 21.8 million households the first week to 15.3 million the second, from No. 1 in its Sunday time period and No. 5 for the week to No. 3 in the time slot and No. 21 for the week.
ABC's "Hooperman," with John Ritter, had a 19% drop in viewership and fell from No. 10 to No. 20, and the network's "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story" fell from No. 18 to No. 35, with an 18% decline.
"That's normal," Arnold Becker, vice president of research at CBS, said Tuesday. "There is a tendency for new shows to get some sampling (when they premiere) and then be somewhat lower the second time around."
Even the big drop with "Dolly" was not alarming, he said, explaining that the audience for its Sept. 27 premiere had been larger than expected. "The industry certainly did not expect it to be the rollicking hit of the new season," Becker said. (ABC officials had predicted last week that Parton's viewership would be down, with "Dolly" attracting a percentage of the audience in the "high 20s." It got 26%, slightly less than its opposition, the "Perry Mason" movie on NBC and the TV movie "Mistress" on CBS.
The one new show besides "A Different World" that bucked the trend and didn't lose audience was NBC's comedy "My Two Dads," which placed 15th. Becker noted, however, that that show, like "A Different World," is in a well-protected time slot--behind the popular "Family Ties," which finished 10th in its new home on Sunday night after moving from NBC's powerhouse Thursday night lineup.
In general, Becker said, surveying the performance of all three networks' rookies, "There are a lot of new programs on the air this year but they're not exactly burning up the airwaves. There's precedent for that historically but even so, we would have expected to see a few more doing better. There isn't much to brag about."
On top of that, he added, combined ratings for the three networks were down 13% from the same period a year ago. Becker attributed most of the drop to Nielsen's new people-meter system of collecting viewer data.
For the week ending Sunday, NBC averaged a 17.4 rating and 29% of the audience, compared to a 13.2 rating and 22 share for CBS and a 12.8 rating and 21 share for ABC. Each ratings point represents 886,000 households.
NBC News' expedition to China last week may have been an impressive technical and logistical feat, but CBS' Dan Rather, who stayed home, won the week's ratings for the network evening newscasts. His "CBS Evening News" had an 11.2 ratings average, while Brokaw's "NBC Nightly News," broadcast from Beijing and Shanghai, was second with a 10.1. ABC's "World News Tonight" had a 9.6.
It was the second consecutive No. 1 week for Rather, who ran third for most of the summer.