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ABC expected to 'sweep' network rivals

Regis Philbin, host of ABC's hit game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"  

May 4, 2000
Web posted at: 6:03 p.m. EDT (2203 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- It seemed a foregone conclusion that ABC would win May sweeps. The network scheduled its not-so-secret weapon, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," 17 out of 28 nights during the key ratings period.

But 3.5 million viewers could not see the show's celebrity edition Monday, after Time Warner pulled ABC from its cable system over a dispute with Disney, ABC's corporate parent. (Time Warner is the parent company of CNN.com.)

That has some people wondering whether the blackout, which lasted until Tuesday afternoon, will harm ABC's numbers.

Media analyst Paul Schulman, president of Schulman/Advancers N.Y., says he doesn't think so.

"ABC will win the May sweeps with or without the homes in those seven markets," he says. "It's not a very important part of the puzzle."

Before the blackout, "Millionaire" beat CBS' "60 Minutes" and now will take on the finale of NBC's "ER." Host Regis Philbin boasts the short-lived blackout had little effect.

Bruce Willis appears on NBC's "Friends" during May sweeps  

"Well actually, the ratings were phenomenal," Philbin says. "Of course it was a great show. We had all those celebrities to choose from."

Over at NBC, "Today Show" anchors joked about the lost millions. "I was broken up that people can't see ABC this morning," quipped Matt Lauer.

The peacock network, meanwhile, is heavily promoting its must-see lineup. Bruce Willis and Tom Selleck pop up on "Friends"; they promise a wedding on "Frasier" and a romance on "Will & Grace. As for "ER," says executive producer John Wells, expect a jaw-dropper.

"We've actually managed, for the first time, to do a number of things which I think are going to be surprises," he says. "People will be shocked."

But don't count on George Clooney's return, even though his character's love interest, Julianna Margulies, is leaving the show.

"She called me up and said, 'Now you have to come get me off the show,'" he recalls. "I said, 'You mean, like an "Officer and a Gentleman," with a hat, and picking you up?' And she said 'yes.' And that was the only conversation."

Michael J. Fox, stricken with the debilitating Parkinson's disease, exits "Spin City" on ABC. Charlie Sheen is to come aboard as the next big-name cast member.

"Beverly Hills 90210" goes off the air this spring  

May will bring several shows to their series finales, including "Boy Meets World" (ABC), "Cosby" (CBS), "Beverly Hills 90210" (Fox), and "Party of Five" (Fox).

ABC's "Sports Night" gets a stay of execution and returns for two episodes. The fate of Fox's "The X-Files," however, remains a mystery.

"We don't know if David Duchovny is going to take the money and come back," says TV Guide's Mark Schwed, "or do what he says, which is 'that's it, I've had enough.'"

The big three networks are offering family viewing through special event movies: NBC has "Jason and the Argonauts"; "Jesus" airs on CBS; and Drew Carey plays "Geppetto" on ABC.



RELATED STORIES:
ABC drafts 'Sports Night' for sweeps
April 26, 2000
ABC returning to Time Warner Cable
May 2, 2000
Cast comes at NBC's 'The '70s' from varied perspectives
April 28, 2000

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