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'Today' a Rare Bright Spot at NBC

November 17, 1992|RICK DU BROW

TV or not TV . . .

MORNING GLORY: There's not much to cheer about at NBC these days, so you can imagine how relieved the network is about the re-emergence of the "Today" show.

During election week, "Today" scored its highest ratings in more than three years. And that gave the long-dormant series its seventh consecutive week in first place.

Good timing, too, for the ratings news as the granddaddy of the morning shows, anchored by Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric, built a head of steam for its current trip to Africa.

Despite its inclusion of goofy, colorful regulars over the years, "Today" has invariably done best when hard news is its long suit. And NBC notes that this year, significantly, the series has won the weeks of the Los Angeles riots, Hurricane Andrew, the Democratic and Republican conventions, the presidential debates and the elections.

With breaking news now available on so many channels, the morning-show roundups have become, more than ever, a remaining bastion of network strength for putting things in focus.

BEAT IT: The first part of ABC's "The Jacksons: An American Dream," about the pop music dynasty, snared a hefty 32% of the big-city audience Sunday in overnight ratings. Part Two--the finale--airs Wednesday.

TURKEY TROT: Oh sure, KTLA Channel 5 will have its annual Thanksgiving Day "Twilight Zone" marathon--13 hours starting at 9 a.m. But you can also feast on an alternative marathon: 18 hours of Clint Eastwood movies on superstation TBS beginning at 7:05 a.m., including "Dirty Harry," "High Plains Drifter" and "A Fistful of Dollars."

Thanksgiving is generally a pretty poor day for television viewing what with all the family goings-on, so you have to have something special to lure folks to the tube.

ENCORE: Andy Griffith did so well in the ratings with his two-hour ABC "Matlock" movie Nov. 5 that the network has yanked regular series programming again Thursday to make room for another of his films as the country lawyer.

Driving hard for victory in the November sweeps, ABC is again pulling "Delta," "Room for Two" and "Homefront" off the schedule to show the latest "Matlock" TV movie. As you may recall, ABC has bluntly said it is going for the 18-to-49 audience to please its advertisers, but now it's calling on the old pro--and his over-50 audience--once more.

ABC has said it only cares about demographics and not total ratings. Uh huh--until it smells blood. Everybody likes to win. And a sweeps triumph would help the network's affiliate stations get higher prices for their commercials and thus strengthen their bond with ABC. That could be the biggest motivation of all.

ZAPPED: One thing you have to say about David Letterman's election-campaign Top 10 lists--they sure let everybody have it right between the eyes.

Before the campaign fades far into memory, let's recall some of the choice entries according to Dave:

There was, for instance, one of the Top 10 debate conditions demanded by President Bush: "No questions about last four years."

Then there was the reason that Bill Clinton began losing his lead late in the race: "Promised to hit home run for sick child, grounded weakly to short."

There was the clue that Ross Perot planned on dropping out again: "Hasn't bothered to change answering machine message that says, 'Hi, I'm out of the race right now.' "

Inevitably, there was a post-election Letterman message that Clinton has gone mad with power: "Keeps calling country 'Clintonia.' "

And, to round out the picture, there was one of the Top 10 things the Quayles have to do before Jan. 20: "Try to meet Bush."

PERKS: For Dan Rather, the election means that at least the new President will talk to him. At the beginning anyway.

NIGHTMARE: How'd you like to be the guy at KCBS Channel 2--or higher up at CBS--who made the bonehead decision to let "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" get away to KABC Channel 7? Oh my goodness.

ROULETTE: CBS' top two new hits, "Hearts Afire" and "Love & War," were off the pace of their fast ratings starts as of last week. If they don't get a fresh wind, there'll be some nervous times at the top-ranked network because the key Monday lineup could be weakened.

TALKING HEAD: Rush Limbaugh's ratings keep on rising for his new, syndicated TV series. They increased 32% from his Sept. 14 debut through Nov. 1. Some of those national advertisers who are avoiding the outspoken commentator may find it hard not to jump in if the trend continues.

SCENE-STEALER: Caught Raul Julia in "Tequila Sunrise" on TV during the weekend, and he's probably more fun to watch than almost any actor around. There's kind of an Orson Welles-type menacing mischievousness in his style.

LOOK-ALIKES: Mel Gibson and Alan Thicke.

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