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Sweeps a downer, even for hits

For the first several days of May sweeps, most syndicated series faltered out of the gate, at least as far as the national ratings were concerned.

Even the giants slipped from their pedestals for the week ending April 30, including talk queen Oprah (down 9%, to a 6.1) and court maven Judge Judy (down 3%, to a 6.4), according to Nielsen Media Research.

In the talk world, Jerry Springer fell 5%, to a 3.8, which landed him in second place. And in a tie for fourth at a 3.5, Rosie O'Donnell dropped 13% and Live with Regis and Kathie Lee was down 3%. No. 3, Maury Povich, stayed flat. Also in a slump were Montel Williams (down 3%, 2.8), Sally (down 3%, to a 2.8) and Ricki (down 4%, to a 2.5).

But given that there was a noticeable absence of sweeps stunting and promotional bells and whistles, the show's performances were nothing to cause panic.

"There have been no specials, no sweepstakes, no celebrity guests," said Katz TV's Bill Carroll. "So, in that context, being flat or slightly down is actually an encouraging sign."

One bright spot was off-net darling Seinfeld, which rebounded from its all-time low last week, shooting up 10% to a 5.4. First-place off-net sitcom Friends (5.7) and third-place Frasier (5.1) were also slightly up.

As for the court crowd, all the gavelers were down or unchanged from last week. Following Judge Judy, Joe Brown dipped 7%, to a 3.8, and staying flat were Divorce Court (3.0), People's Court (2.4), Greg Mathis (2.3). Mills Lane fell 9%, to a 2.1.