If television is a mirror for the culture that watches it, then New York dreams about money more than other places and it’s more obsessed by the legal system than the rest of the country. Surprisingly, New Yorkers are less enthralled with its onetime hometown hero, David Letterman, than viewers elsewhere, and they would rather wash off the grime of the workday wash with reruns of Cheers and Frasier or the educational stuff found on the A&E network.
Regis Philbin’s runaway game-show hit for ABC, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire , draws a larger percentage of the viewing audience in the New York area than it does nationally. This makes Mr. Philbin, who worked as a page at NBC when he was just breaking into the business, the undisputed king of New York television. On Monday, Nov. 22, his Millionaire show pulled in 30 percent of the people watching TV at the time-a regal share of the audience usually reserved for likes of ER on Thursdays. And his ABC morning program, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee -the No. 1 show locally in its 10 A.M. time slot-is nothing to sneeze at, either.
“What else do you want from me?” Mr. Philbin shouted into the phone after the Nov. 23 taping of Live . “Every morning, every night, that’s why I’m the king!”
The Observer culled through reams of Nielsen television ratings to see what people watch here and, when possible, how their TV habits compare with those in the rest of the country.
You say you live here for the museums? Then how is it that the statistics show that a greater percentage of New Yorkers watch prime time shows than people elsewhere-and a greater percentage of New Yorkers stay up for late night programs as well. Another thing about New Yorkers and TV: They love their game shows even more than the rest of the country.
Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune also do a lot better here than they do in the rest of the country. In its 7 P.M. time slot during the week of Nov. 1, nearly 14 percent of all households in the New York area were tuned to Jeopardy , compared with 9.5 percent nationally. And while New York may be a smart town, the highly dumb Wheel of Fortune pulled 12.7 percent of households, compared with 11.7 nationally in its 7:30 P.M. slot.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is viewed by an average of 14.6 percent of television households nationally; it draws 15.4 percent in New York. Which brings us back to Regis.
“I think people enjoy maybe the drama of it, the gambling aspect,” said Mr. Philbin, who has a street named after him in the Bronx. “You know, in New York, life can be tough, and sometimes a city is a tough place to live, and I think people live a little vicariously when they see somebody winning $2,000 or a million.”
The result? New York viewers have had to break some bad news to Jerry Seinfeld: they just don’t love his rerun like they used to. Channel 11 is partly to blame for breaking up this once-beautiful romance between viewer and rerun; the channel moved Seinfeld from its cushy 11 P.M. time slot-it sometimes beat all the newscasts when it was on at 11-to 7:30 P.M. The move was made to improve prime time ratings for WB shows like Dawson’s Creek .
Moving the Seinfeld rerun did improve the New York ratings for the WB’s prime time fare-but Mr. Philbin is still fuming.
“I went nuts when they moved it! I just love those guys! Partially because it’s New York. I work on Columbus Avenue and to know that those guys live on the street! And, frankly, there are guys like that all over New York! I grew up with guys like that! I know a thousand Kramers, you know? And a million Georges! I just love the combination of New York and those characters. The way it’s written, it’s just great television and a great, great sitcom,” said Mr. Philbin.
In its new, 7:30 timeslot, the Seinfeld rerun struggles to beat Access Hollywood on NBC. It got a 6.6 rating the week of Nov. 1-less than its national 6.9 rating-and lags far behind Pat Sajak and his infernal wheel.
Mr. Philbin said he combats the Seinfeld time change by taping it and watching it at 11 P.M. (But it’s never quite the same, is it?) Late night TV is, indeed, a bigger deal in the New York area than elsewhere.
Just ask Regis. “Prime time is not my time at home,” he said. “My problem is that I’m out a lot.”
The experts back him up: “People stay up later and watch television later,” said Paul Bissonette, general manager of the WPIX-TV. “If you compare it to Chicago or even Los Angeles, people don’t tend to watch television as late as they do here. Maybe we get by with less sleep because God knows we get up early.”
At midnight, for instance, 27 percent of all television households in the Los Angeles area are watching television. In Boston, it’s 28 percent and in Chicago, it’s 31 percent. But here in New York, the percentage is hovering around 40, according to figures kept by WPIX.
Channel 11 keeps close tabs on the time period because it dominates late night. Even though Late Show With David Letterman on CBS films here and often uses the city as a backdrop, it is Mr. Bissonette’s channel that is being watched the most in the later hours in the New York area.
In fact, Late Show With David Letterman is doing worse here than it is doing nationally. For the week of Nov. 1, while it pulled a 3.2 nationally, it only drew 2.75 percent of New York’s television households. That is less than three-tenths more than the viewership of Living Single on Channel 5 and less than a half-percent better than UPN’s Star Trek Voyager .
On Thursday, Nov. 4, Star Trek beat Letterman , with a 3.3 rating to Mr. Letterman’s 2.2. Ouch.
Remember Pat Sajak’s short-lived late-night CBS show? Well, Mr. Letterman’s number for the week even falls below Pat Sajak’s local ratings back in October 1989 . The Sajak show averaged a 2.9 rating on CBS.
That comes as a shock to Mr. Philbin, who counts Late Show as one of his favorites. “I just don’t understand it!” he said. “The show is New York! I mean, those shots he’s got just coming in and out of segments, you know? The most beautiful things I’ve seen on television-and I’m not kidding! It is fantastic photography and when he goes out on the street, it’s great stuff! It’s New York at its best!”
Mr. Letterman’s direct competitors over at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno have used the data in press releases to fight back against news that Mr. Letterman is closing the gap between the two shows nationally. During the week of Nov. 1, Mr. Leno drew a 5.4 rating in New York, doubling Mr. Letterman’s rating and beating its national rating handily.
Letterman supporters point to the generally weak performance of WCBS’ 11 P.M. news show, which usually comes in third or fourth in the ratings behind news on Channel 7, Channel 4 and sometimes even the Friends rerun on Channel 11.
And the executives at The Tonight Show can’t gloat too much. It’s got a strong challenger in Frasier on Channel 11 at 11:30 P.M. For the week, Frasier was watched in 5.6 percent of local television households compared with 6.2 percent for the Tonight Show during the time period. But on Wed., Nov. 3, Frasier beat the Tonight Show by half a percentage point.
During the second half-hour of the show, Cheers came in second to the Tonight Show by tenth of a rating point for the week.
Industry observers say those shows on Channel 11 are the ones that hurt Mr. Letterman most here, since they are watched by the same younger audience that he’s supposed to draw.
At 12:30 A.M., Craig Kilborn suffers on CBS as well. With a 1.6 rating, he comes in fifth, behind the Oprah Winfrey rerun and News Radio . While Late Night With Conan O’Brien did well with 206,000 New York area households, the show still came in behind Channel 11′s Change of Heart , which drew an average 267,000 households. Still, Mr. O’Brien has more local viewers than Mr. Letterman on an average night, even though his show starts an hour later.
Cable is also a great late night temptation, with cable channels drawing some of their biggest numbers after 11 P.M.
During the 11 P.M. timeslot, Law & Order on A&E has the top rating, drawing 112,000 households. Golden Girls comes in second on Lifetime with 86,000 households. Howard Stern on E! comes in third, with 66,000 households. Surprisingly, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show , with Jon Stewart, is down further in the ratings, drawing just 25,500 households during the week of Nov. 1. On MTV, Loveline drew 10,000 households. At midnight, reality does well on cable too. For instance, Biography on the A&E network drews 81,000 households after midnight while Unsolved Mysteries on Lifetime was watched by 56,000.
That’s apparently the kind of programming New York wants to watch after the high stress of its work day.
“I am married to the History Channel and A&E and Discovery,” said Manhattan power lawyer Raoul Felder. “I watch them all through the night. It’s like watching an old movie, it’s very relaxing. There’s no suspense. It’s never whose going to get the girl, who’s going to be killed. There are no problems, you know what’s going to happen.”
Since New Yorkers, by reputation, would seem to be the busiest people on earth, with work and a thousand cultural activities to occupy them at all times, one would think they wouldn’t have time for prime time television. But they do. An analysis of the Nielsen ratings for the week of Nov. 1 found that prime time shows in general pull an equal share of people who own TV sets in the New York area as they do nationally-if not more. And New Yorkers with cable TV watch nearly as much network television during prime time as those without cable. Check this out: During the week of Nov. 1, NBC was actually watched by a higher percentage of cable households than total TV households-10.3 percent compared with 9.6 percent.
Let’s look at prime time, shall we? The top two shows in the New York area are the same nationally as they were locally- ER first, Friends second. In fact, those two NBC Thursday night hits pulled higher ratings here than they did nationally. In New York, ER was watched in 22 percent of the area’s 6.87 million households with TV sets; nationwide, it was watched in 19.5 percent of the nation’s 100 million TV households. Likewise Friends , a show based in a fantasyland version of New York, was watched by 19 percent of New York’s TV households, compared with 15.5 percent of the nation’s. So much for this city being too hip for the rest of the country.
But then things veer off more significantly. For instance, NBC’s Law and Order , the 21st show nationally that week with a 9.8 rating, was 10th in New York, with a 13 rating. Legal shows kill in New York. For instance, during the first week of November, ABC’s The Practice ranked third locally but ninth nationally. Over on CBS, Judging Amy ranked ninth locally-but 15th nationally. Even the sleepy Diagnosis Murder , starring Dick Van Dyke, ranked 14th here and 20th nationally.
That’s no surprise to network researchers. First of all, New York has more law firms than other major city. Secondly, since these shows tend to rely on plotlines “ripped from today’s headlines.”
“New York is very news and current events-oriented and the people are very wired into what’s going on in the world and in the nation,” said David Poltrack, chief researcher for CBS. “They’re more interested in the political process and more interested in the legal process and it probably does have to do with the newspaper coverage as well as the television coverage.”
Everybody Loves Raymond , about a New York sports writer, does well here-ranking 11th locally, 12th nationally-as does The King of Queens , ranking 16th here, 22nd nationally.
But New York has little patience for the animated shows, no matter how good: The Simpsons ranked 34th nationally, 58th locally; King of the Hill was 87th nationally, 111th here, during the first week of November. Another highly praised Fox show, The X-Files , leaves New Yorkers cold, at least compared to viewers elsewhere in the country. Leave that stuff to hip heartlanders.
When Hank Williams is singing his Monday Night Football theme song, New York is not listening. For the week of Nov. 1, Monday Night Football-when the Dallas Cowboys played the Minesota Vikings-ranked 24th locally, but it was No. 3 nationally, tied with Who Wants to be a Millionaire .
Correspondingly, New York is enthralled with Will & Grace , the NBC sitcom about a Manhattan odd couple consisting of a gay man and a straight woman. It came in 29th nationally, but ranked 10th locally, drawing roughly 640,000 local viewers.
But New York seems to be taking some national television trends and running with them. While the UPN’s WWF Smackdown ranked 90th nationally, watched in 4.8 percent of television households, it ranked 41st here, with 7.8 percent of the television households-535,000 all told. It ranks above 48 Hours and Dateline NBC , 60 Minutes II and Cosby .
Yet despite a taste for such rock-’em-sock’em programming, New Yorkers are still suckers for romance. They’re disproportionately fond of ABC’s Once and Again , about aging divorced singles living in the suburbs of Chicago: it ranked 20th here, 50th nationally. And that hapless Ally McBeal -will she ever find a good man?-ranks fourth here, 11th nationally.
So if Regis is the king of New York TV, then David E. Kelley, the mastermind behind the local hits Ally McBeal and The Practice , would have to be New York’s TV prince.
While the teen craze loses steam across the country, it’s alive and kicking here. For the most part, the teen shows that run on the WB network do better in New York than they do in the rest of America: Buffy the Vampire Slayer ranked 45th here with 7.5 percent of the area’s television households. Nationally, it ranked 96th, with 3.5 percent of television households. Same goes for Shannen Doherty’s Charmed , which scored a 7.1 rating locally and a 3.9 rating nationally.
The same can’t be said for Felicity , about a student attending a college similar to New York University. Maybe it’s her new, short haircut, but New York is as uninterested in the solipsistic Felicity Porter as she is in the world that surrounds her: Her show is No. 106 nationally and No. 102 locally.
Still, nearly 40 percent of all homes watching television during prime time are watching cable. That audience is for the most part evenly dispersed across the dial, with most channels pulling less than 1 percent of all area TV homes. Translation: lots of channel-flipping.
Nickelodeon, with a lineup of reruns of Leave It to Beaver , I Dream of Genie , Adam 12 , Dragnet , All in the Family , Maude and Sanford and Son , averaged the highest prime-time audience during the week of Nov. 2, viewed in 150,800 households. It was closely followed by Ted Turner’s TNT, with 117,000 households, Barry Diller’s USA Network, with 107,000-both feature plenty of wrestling-and the Madison Square Garden network, which airs Knicks and Rangers games. It drew 102,000 average viewers the week of Nov. 1.
When it comes to local news, Channel 4′s Sue Simmons and Chuck Scarborough rule. In the late afternoon, that’s in large part thanks to the syndicated Judge Judy , which NBC snatched away from CBS last summer. With Judy gaveling ‘em in, NBC’s wins the 5 o’clock and 6 o’clock battles. The week of Nov. 1, Judge Judy was watched on WNBC by 460,000 New York households compared with the 364,000 that tuned into Oprah Winfrey on Channel 7. So NBC news averaged 7.7 percent of the audience at 5 o’clock, 7.9 percent at 6 o’clock compared with 6.6 percent and 6.2 percent for Bill Beutel and company over at ABC. CBS’ local news shows lag far behind, with 4 percent of the audience. The same pattern holds at 11.
But at 6:30 P.M., New York changes over to Peter Jennings, the flutey-voiced anchor of World News Tonight on ABC. That pulled 7.6 percent of all local television homes Monday through Friday, compared, with 7.2 for Tom Brokaw on NBC. Dan Rather’s CBS Evening News falls far below the two, losing to The Nanny on Fox and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air on Channel 11 during the week. New York just does not like Mr. Rather. While he is watched by 7.3 percent of all national households, he was only watched by 3.8 percent here Monday through Friday during the week of Nov. 1.
On cable that week, New York 1, with an average 20,000 viewers at any given time of the day, did nearly as well as CNN and CNBC, which are tied with an average 25,000 viewers any given time of the day. But New York 1 gets its big showing from a strong morning push. New Yorkers watch CNN and CNBC most heavily at the end of the business day.
“I faithfully watch CNBC,” said Mr. Philbin. “Gotta stay in touch with my portfolio!”
But many people wake up with New York 1. A five borough breakdown of cable homes from July shows that from 6 A.M. to 9 A.M., New York 1 drew an average 59,000 viewers to NBC’s 71,500 and ABC’s 51,000, according to statistics provided by New York 1.
Still, as a whole, the New York area is gaga for Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. While they garnered 5.5 percent of the national audience during the week of Nov. 1, in New York, they pulled an average 7.1 percent of local television households. That handily beat Good Morning America , with 3.4 percent of the New York morning audience. Bryant Gumbel’s new Early Show fared far worse. In its first week, it came in with just 2 percent of all television households here, compared with 2.7 percent nationally, losing to Good Day New York by nearly half a rating point. All of the shows were competing with a strong Pokémon that drew 6.3 percent of all television households.
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