CHANNEL SURFER: Very Special Ratings Report

Apparently all it took was a good old-fashioned “death of a major character” to remind us all about the things in life that are really important — like “ER.”

After the “Must-See” stabbing death of the good Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) spiked the NBC medical drama to a big-time sweeps victory (and finally vanquished that blasted “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”), enough grieving fans stuck around to help the show to another victory for the primetime ratings week ended Sunday.

“ER” just might be on to something. You know, that Very Special Episode of “3rd Rock From the Sun” featuring Very Special Guest-Star William Shatner only finished 65th last week. Maybe if they’d spilled a little blood. … Played it for laughs (of course). … Hmm. …

In any case, here’s an annotated look at the Top 10 for the TV week of Feb. 21-27. (Each rating point represents a little more than 1 million TV homes.)

1. “ER,” NBC — 20.7 rating The afterglow of the stabbing thing. ‘Nuff said.

2. “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” (Tuesday), ABC — 18.8 ABC proves that it doesn’t have to stoop to using violence and death to attract viewers. It can just give away money instead.

3. “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” (Sunday), ABC — 17.8 And it can give away more money.

4. “The 42nd Annual Grammy Awards,” CBS — 17.3 CBS proves that it doesn’t have to give away money to attract viewers. (Actually, it can’t give away money to attract viewers. Remember “Winning Lines?” We don’t, either). It can just parade Jennifer Lopez around in that “outfit,” instead.

5. “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” (Thursday), ABC — 17.2 And more money.

6. “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” (Wednesday), ABC — 15.9 All right — enough. Where’s “Twenty One?” Is there really that big of a difference between Maury Povich and Regis Philbin? Really?

7. “Friends,” NBC — 14.4

8. “Frasier,” NBC — 14.3

9. “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” (Friday), ABC – 12.9 Anyway, back to that “Twenty One” reference. Did you know that NBC has a game show, too? It’s a little faster paced, they ask more questions, and they even give away more money. … It’s really a lot of fun. Do you even know what we’re talking about? Hello? Um … it’s Maury, isn’t it?

10. “CBS Sunday Movie — A Perfect Murder, A Perfect Town,” CBS — 12.9 With this dramatization of the JonBenet Ramsey scandal, CBS proves that it doesn’t have to stoop. … Well, um, on second thought, maybe it doesn’t.

In the overall melee, ABC won the week (not to mention the entire February sweeps) on the strength of Regis Philbin‘s ability to give away money better than anybody else on the planet! CBS finished second with strong showings from the exploitation of a real-life killing (“A Perfect Murder, A Perfect Town”) and Jennifer Lopez reading from a TelePrompTer pretty much naked at the Grammys. NBC was third overall because nobody died on, say, “Jesse,” and for some reason, nobody cares that they are giving away money, too. Fox, WB and UPN trailed — as they are wont to do.

Other performances of note:

— Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” came in at No. 32 with a 9.3 rating. After seeing Fox blaze a new trail in what a network would stoop to (see: “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?”), we would like to point out that this show is actually very funny — and still manages to register as the network’s third most popular show. We hope none of the characters gets stabbed to death over this.

— Two episodes of NBC’s “Twenty One” finished No. 48 and No. 83, respectively. You know, we’re really starting to think it’s Maury.