Longer days, lower ratings

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The start of daylight-saving time didn't bring a lot of sunny news to several syndicated shows, especially off-net sitcoms clustered in the suddenly brighter access time periods. With TV viewers lured outdoors, Columbia TriStar Television Distribution's Seinfeld fell 14% from the prior week, to a 4.2 Nielsen household score, its worst-ever marks, for the week ended April 8.

Seinfeld, down 19% from the comparable 2000 period, was the hardest hit of the comedies. But it was also affected by moves to arguably weaker stations (for example, from KTLA-TV to KCOP-TV in Los Angeles) at the beginning of its second cycle.

"There is the judgment that Seinfeld is stumbling, but we don't see that," insists David Mumford, the studio's executive vice president of planning and operations. He points out that 43 different stations just started airing the sitcom and "many viewers still have to figure out about the switch."

However, Mumford insists that these outlets, many of which paid record-level license fees to get their hands on Seinfeld, are pleased so far. For the first three weeks of its second cycle (April 2-20), Seinfeld boosted its time-period average on the new 13 metered market stations by 13% over its predecessor in the time slot (4.1 vs. a 3.3 weighted average). Hopping from WPIX-TV New York to WNYW-TV, Seinfeld (4.5) is doing 96% better than The Simpsons (2.3) did in the period. On KCOP-TV, its 2.6 outdelivers Spin City's 1.5 by 73%.

Seinfeld was not alone in its national slippage. Also dipping in the ratings were Friends (5.6, down 3%), Frasier (5.1, down 4%), Drew Carey (3.5, down 3%) and 3rd Rock From the Sun (3.0, down 9%). Freshman off-net Spin City (2.5, down 11%) posted its lowest numbers ever.

These shows will bounce back, Mumford predicts, because, even though daylight saving time will persist for many weeks, "there is no other month but April when all three sports are on at the same time" posing even more competition.

Also on the decline were talk strips Rosie
(2.5, down 17%) and Sally (2.1, down 5%), both falling to season lows. But star Rosie O'Donnell can take comfort in the fact that the slippage can't be blamed on her: For much of the week, she was recovering from a hand infection, while Barbara Walters and others substituted.

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