The "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" lifeline hoisted ABC to its highest-rated week in more than four years, attracting the biggest audience for any prime-time program broadcast this season, based on viewing estimates issued Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research.
With "Millionaire" to air regularly three times a week and ABC broadcasting this year's Super Bowl, the network now has a legitimate chance of overtaking both NBC and CBS before the season is over.
Though millions flee from adjacent ABC fare, "Millionaire" is exhibiting a halo effect benefiting other ABC shows. "The Drew Carey Show," "Dharma & Greg" and "Sports Night" all climbed to record heights, while "NYPD Blue" turned in its biggest premiere audience since 1996 and Friday's "20/20" posted a season high.
Despite ABC's commanding victory, the network didn't quite corner the market on good news. Fox's new comedy "Malcolm in the Middle" improved on its hit credentials, exceeding its premiere rating and again drawing far more viewers than established lead-in "The Simpsons."
By contrast, CBS' "City of Angels" delivered respectable numbers for its debut Sunday but lost nearly a third of the audience for "60 Minutes," which was boosted by tune-in for the NFL playoffs.
Here is the number of viewers that each network averaged per hour of prime time, for last week and for the season.
Last Season week to date ABC 17.60 million 12.86 CBS 13.29 12.99 NBC 12.04 12.98 FOX 9.74 9.19 UPN 3.94 3.88 WB 3.22 3.86
Here are Nielsen's Top 10 prime-time programs in the Los Angeles area during the same week. The rankings are based on the number of households watching.
Sta- House- Program tion holds 1. Millionaire (Wed.) KABC 1,032,155 2. Millionaire (Fri.) KABC 1,011,615 3. Millionaire (Tue.) KABC 980,804 4. Friends KNBC 934,588 5. Millionaire (Sun.) KABC 867,832 6. Millionaire (Mon.) KABC 847,292 7. ER KNBC 837,021 8. Millionaire (Thur.) KABC 816,481 9. Jesse KNBC 795,941 10. Ally McBeal KTTV 775,400 Frasier KNBC 775,400