It was the best of times, it was the best of times. That just about summed up syndication for the week ending Feb. 27, which included the third full week of the February sweeps.
The timing of syndie's upbeat ratings news was impeccable, coming just as the Syndicated Network Television Association begins pitching the power of its programming to advertisers in New York.
Three shows, Ellen, Dr. Phil, and Judge Greg Mathis, surged to their highest national ratings in history.
Ellen was up 16% from the week before to a new series-high 2.6, up a full 30% over last year, which was the biggest year-to-year improvement of any talk show. The sophomore talker was also up 27% in women 25-54, a key daytime demo.
Ellen's gains were driven by its best-ever household rating for a single show, a 3.0 on President's Day, Feb. 21, for an episode with Ray Romano kicking off an Everybody Loves Raymond week that included appearances by various Raymond stars on succeeding days. Everybody in syndication seemed to love Raymond too, with the show's off-net run continuing to lead the pack (see below).
Dr. Phil, in its third season, was up 18% from the prior week to hit its new series high of a 6.6, up 16% from last year, which was the second-biggest year-to-year gain after Ellen. Phil's ratings got a big boost from shows on Feb. 23 and 24 about a woman and her son, who claims he sexually molested his younger sister.
Judge Greg Mathis, in its sixth season, had its best week ever, up 12% week-to-week and 16% year-to-year to a 2.9 average, ranking it fifth among the strong court field. The series had its best day ever Feb. 21, hitting a 3.1 on the holiday.
The top jurist remained Judge Judy, as she has been the past eight years. Judy was up 2% to a 5.4. The second-highest court in the land was was presided over by Judge Joe Brown, up 6% to a 3.8 in households and up 13% in women 18-34. Divorce Court was up 7% to a 3.1; People's Court was up 11% to a new season-high 3.0; and Judge Hatchett was up 5% to a new season-high 2.1, tying Texas Justice, which, like Texas, was flat for the week.
Elsewhere, almost every first-run strip trended higher as HUT (homes using television) levels jumped by more than 2 million households, or nearly 6%, with an assist from the Monday holiday and some cold weather that had more people snuggled up around the electronic hearth.
The rookies were hot, with The Insider continuing to lead the group with a 2.9, up 4%; followed by Jane Pauley, up 13% to a 1.7. Tony Danza, which is already renewed for season two, was up 8% to a 1.4; Ambush Makeover was up 20% to a 1.2; Larry Elder was up 11% to a 1.0; Pat Croce was up 14% to a .8; and Life & Style was flat at a .6
Most talkers were talking it up, too, with Oprah up 4% to an 8.5; Live with Regis & Kelly up 6% to a 3.8, in third after Dr. Phil; Maury, up 9% in fourth to a 3.5; followed by Montel, up 8% to a 2.7.
In access, Entertainment Tonight dominated as usual, setting the pace with a 5.7, up 2% in households and up 10% in women 18-34. Inside Edition recorded a 3.7, unchanged for the prior week, following Insider.Access Hollywood was fourth with a 2.6, down 4%, followed by Extra, up 5% to a 2.3.
On the game board, Wheel was in double figures with a 10.1, up 4%. "What is an 8.4, up 5%" was Jeopardy's answer, while Who Wants to Be a Millionaire's big number was a 3.8, up 3%. Family Feud averaged a new season-high 2.4. Survey Says: up 14%.
In the off-net arena, Everybody Loves Raymond topped the sitcoms, though unchanged at a 7.3. Seinfeld was up 2% to second-place 6.3; Malcolm was n the middle of the pack with a 3.7, up 6%, followed by Yes, Dear, unchanged at a 2.0; Fear Factor at a 1.9, up 6%; and Girlfriends at a 1.7, also up 6%.