Saving it up for sweeps

In the last week before May sweeps' onslaught of ratings-grabbing stunts, several syndicated shows posted sleepy performances. Perhaps saving their energy for the big month ahead, seven series hit new lows and none rang up season highs in the week ended April 22.

Both of Twentieth Television's first-run series, sophomore Divorce Court and rookie Power of Attorney, logged season worsts. Both fell 13% from the previous week, to a 2.7 and 2.0 rating, respectively, according to Nielsen Media Research. Xena (2.4, down 8%) and rookies Arrest & Trial (1.4, down 13%) and Spin City (2.3, down 8%) also dropped to new lows.

To be fair, many shows pulling weak numbers were in repeats, waiting to unspool the rest of the season's original episodes in May, when it counts. For example, Power of Attorney brings out its biggest guns beginning May 7, when O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark will guest star for the week.

As she requested, Clark will not do battle with her former partner, Power co-star Christopher Darden. Nevertheless, insists Twentieth TV President Bob Cook, the show "will get a nice shout" from her appearance. "Besides being well known, she has quite an animated personality. People will be curious. And they will tune in to watch her do her thing."

Power also plans a "Feuding Friends and Neighbors" week, a response to Twentieth-initiated research into which cases viewers most want to see. There will also be contests in which Power and Divorce Court fans can win trips to the Caribbean and to Cancun, Mexico, respectively.

Some outings managed to escape the week's downward pull. All four newsmagazine strips, whose formats call for fresh, relevant episodes, jumped in the numbers, most likely boosted by coverage of exploding reality TV series, like CBS' Survivor: The Australian Outback and NBC's Weakest Link, the latter debuting April 16. Entertainment Tonight (5.8, up 2%) led the bunch, followed by Extra (3.1, up 11%), Inside Edition (2.8, up 4%) and Access Hollywood (2.5, up 9%).

Another bright spot: Seinfeld rebounded 8%, to a 4.3, after two weeks of lows. In the third week of its second cycle, the sitcom has changed stations in 13 metered markets.