Fox's expensive and unprecedented decision to produce eight summer episodes of "Beverly Hills, 90210" paid handsome dividends in its first test Thursday night.
The hourlong drama about students at fictitious West Beverly Hills High finished second in its 9-10 p.m. time slot behind reruns of "Cheers" and "Wings" on NBC, according to figures released Friday by the A.C. Nielsen Co. It was seen in nearly the same number of homes (about 10.8 million) as reruns of ABC's "Gabriel's Fire" and CBS' "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" combined and helped Fox come within six-tenths of a point of beating NBC on its strongest night.
"It's a message to all of us that the audience is there for us to take and there to lose," said Preston Beckman, NBC's vice president of audience research.
The ratings were even more impressive locally. "Beverly Hills, 90210," was the evening's most watched show here, drawing a 17 rating, meaning it was seen it about 854,000 households. "Cheers" had 12.3 and "Wings" 9.6.
By comparison, CBS' coverage of Tuesday's All-Star Game, traditionally summer's most-watched program, drew a 16.5 rating here.
Economics have long been the reason networks air reruns in the summer, generally shying away from first-run programming. They need the reruns to make money off the shows, and with viewing down in the summer anyway, the conventional wisdom held that more original programming would not be worth the additional cost.