It may have taken the blood, if not lives, of two of the show's favorite characters to achieve, but "ER" managed to again win the top ratings spot last week, beating back ABC's cash-soaked "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
With the popular characters portrayed by Noah Wyle and Kellie Martin on life support -- and viewers left betting who'll flatline (hint: Martin says she's leaving the show) -- "ER" pulled a 20.9 rating, good for the No. 1. (Each rating point equals a little more than 1 million TV homes.)
That's the good news for the NBC drama.
The bad news is that the network may have to mug and maim the entire cast, or at least have Regis Philbin wheeled into the emergency room, to continue to fend off ABC's greed-fueled beast.
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" continued to look a lot like the Ed Sullivan-era Beatles on the Billboard charts, in a word: dominating.
Proving once and for all that money is indeed more seductive and addictive than, say, black tar heroin, ABC's green-dream machine was firmly parked in three of the four top rating slots. The Feb. 8 edition clocked in with a 19.2 rating; last Sunday's, with a 17.8; and, last Thursday's, with a 17.7.
Overall, ABC won the week, followed by NBC, CBS, Fox, UPN and the WB.
If the threat of death kept "ER" at the top of the ratings hill, the real-life demise of Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz helped nudge CBS' "60 Minutes" into the Top 10 after the classic newsmag ran a previously aired segment on Schulz. A quick recycle of the life and art of the man who brought us Snoopy -- less than 24 hours after he died -- was enough to carry Mike Wallace & Co. to the sixth-highest rated show last week with a 14.9 rating.
NBC's happy-go-lucky "Friends" actually fared better than "60 Minutes" (maybe they were all wearing their Peanuts jammies during a sleepover), taking a 15.4 rating, which was enough to put it over both NBC's "Frasier" and ABC's smart legal drama "The Practice."
In other ratings:
Not Enough Pot to Make it Funny: Fox's "That '70s Show" remained mired in the 70s -- as in 71st place -- drawing a relatively ungroovy 6.0 rating. A second installment pulled the same. Bad vibes? Anything but. The mellow network suits have renewed this thing through (rough estimate) the 24th century.
Say A Little Prayer: CBS is undoubtedly hoping its much-touted "City of Angels" (No. 64) will get touched by an angel before the Grim Reaper pays a visit, as the medical drama tanked again with an anemic 6.4 rating.
Sex, Drugs & Video Tape: The Funniest, Sexiest, Naughtiest, Caught-on-Tape, Real Video Network, sometimes known as Fox, saw its stable of "Did you see that!?" programs hover at the lower end of the ratings spectrum, with "The World's Wildest Police Videos" (No. 77), "TV Guide Sitcom Scandal 3" (No. 78), "World's Sexiest Commercials" (No. 81) and even the groundbreaking (or maybe that's ground-opening) "Cops" (No. 82) charting no higher than a 5.7 rating.
Here's a complete rundown of the Top 10 for the TV week Feb. 7-13, according to stats from Nielsen Media Research:
1. "ER," NBC 2. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (Tues.), ABC 3. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (Sun.), ABC 4. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (Thurs.), ABC 5. "Friends," NBC 6. "60 Minutes," CBS 7. "Frasier," NBC 8. "CBS Sunday Movie: Sally Hemings -- American Scandal," CBS 9. "ABC Monday Night Movie: Mary and Rhoda," ABC 10. "The Practice," ABC