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1998-99 Ratings History -- A Narrow(er) Race for the Top 3 Ranks; Sitcoms Troubled, Duplicate News and Reality TV On the Rise




Written Tiring of Reality by Bridger Cunningham

What a difference one year makes.  In the wake of Seinfeld ending in May 1998, NBC's stranglehold on 1st place softened.  CBS took a solid second, with ABC holding third, the same pattern and configuration of the last two seasons.  FOX was a softer 4th, as expected, and WB and CW trailed so far behind the two combined still underrated Fox.


Sitcoms no longer dominated the top of the ratings, yet offered 73 of the 161 original shows in this table.  Duplicity was the theme of 1998-99, as news outlets on the big three duplicated to 4-5 showings per week.  Nielsen data counted several shows twice as they aired more than twice a week over several weeks.  Reality TV and variety platforms were on the rise, though they did not register above 39th place.  NBC housed the number one show and drama, ER, yet had a noticeable scarcity in dramas.  Instead, Dateline traipsed across the landscape.  The peacock also housed a total of 16 sitcoms with Thursdays continuing to burn red-hot for a 15th season in a row.  All the while Monday and Tuesday sitcoms struggled or met an unceremonious ending.

CBS had fewer sitcoms, as they bolstered their lineup with dramas and news.  ABC continued to attempt three blocks of sitcoms with only Tuesdays and Wednesdays experiencing success.  FOX's soaps all experienced rapid declines, with Melrose Place finally vacating after hooking up with the network for 7 seasons.  WB continued to experience surges due to the popularity of its dramas, while its sitcoms' greatest laugh generated from its paltry ratings.  And UPN struggled to distinguish itself as FOX and WB had done in recent years.