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NBC claims ratings battle for sixth consecutive year

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When the 1990-91 TV ratings race ended on April 14, the order of finish was the same as last year’s: NBC was No. 1 for the sixth season in a row, ABC was second, and CBS was third. But this year, the winner lost big — NBC suffered a major decline, and not one of its returning series improved on its 1989-90 audience. Second-place ABC consoled itself with the best demographics of any network and the year’s only new top 20 hits (America’s Funniest People and Baby Talk). CBS, which missed first place by only half a ratings point, crowed over its status as the only network whose ratings improved from last year. Overall, the three-network share fell from 66 percent to an all-time low of 63 percent.

But amid the rubble stood a few scattered winners. NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the No. 1 show among teenagers, and NBC’s Law and Order and CBS’ Evening Shade did well enough to return next fall as well. CBS’ Sarah, Plain and Tall was the season’s top-rated TV movie, and ABC’s adaptation of Stephen King’s It was No. 1 among miniseries. With the season complete, network programmers now look to TV’s next big ratings contest — the special-laden May sweeps, beginning April 25.

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