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Prime-time programs bow to the mighty Sabres

This is what I'm thinking: The Buffalo Sabres playoff run could play havoc with many popular prime-time programs if it continues - as expected - when the season finales of series air during the May sweeps.

After all, the Sabres' meaningless loss to the Philadelphia Flyers' Sunday afternoon averaged a 16.4 rating and 36 share on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate. To put that in perspective, the Easter Sunday game had higher local ratings than every network series in prime time Sunday night and almost every program all week.

ABC's declining "Desperate Housewives," which may have suffered because it was competing with the final season premiere of HBO's "The Sopranos," was in second place Sunday with 14.5 rating on Channel 7. "Without a Trace," the popular CBS series was third, with a 12.5.

The Sabres' rating was almost as high as the 16.9 rating for last Tuesday's edition of "American Idol" on WUTV. "Idol" may be losing audience now because it is so obvious that anything but a Melinda Doolittle victory would be a travesty.

The Sabres can be expected to get ratings in the 20s on - and maybe even the 30s - during their first-round series with the New York Islanders. The series will be televised in its entirety on MSG. Versus, the NHL's national cable partner, will be carrying five of the seven possible games but it will be blacked out here.

NBC, which didn't carry a regular season Sabres game until Sunday even though they had more points than any team in the league, has passed on them again in round one even though they are playing a suburban New York team.

There was one amusing moment during Sunday's telecast when NBC's announcers noted the importance of having two goalies. It was actually suggested by one "expert" that the Sabres might have to turn to goaltender Ty Conklin if Ryan Miller struggled. The chances of Coach Lindy Ruff giving up on Miller are about equal to the chances that "30 Rock" and "Lost" will get higher ratings than the Sabres during the playoffs.


>NBC renews '30 Rock'

Speaking of "30 Rock," NBC has announced it has renewed the low-rated series for a second season. It's a funny show, but Buffalo isn't amused. It is the lowest-rated of the Thursday comedies here, averaging a 3.4 rating last week on Channel 2. NBC has pulled "Andy Barker, P.I." from Thursdays but will air two new episodes on Saturday.


>Dysfunctional family

Here's quite a local shocker for "The Sopranos." Sunday's season opener only had a 5.7 rating here, which is less than half of what it averaged at the height of its popularity. Of course, many viewers may catch it later on HBO on Demand or when it is carried several other times during the week. Locally, the show averaged about the same rating throughout the hour, suggesting it held the attention of viewers who tuned in.

Here is the line in Sunday's opener of "The Sopranos" that cracked me up. After Tony Sopranos' sister, Janice, told an old story about their parents, Tony explained why he didn't want his wife and brother-inlaw to hear it. "Because it makes us look like a (expletive deleted) dysfunctional family," said Tony.

That wasn't the only occasion that a member of the Sopranos was engaging in hilarious denial. Later in the episode, Tony's wife, Carmela (Edie Falco), told Janice that Tony isn't a "vengeful man."

By the way, there is a local angle to the April 29 episode of "The Sopranos." Hank Nevins, the director of public relations for the Western Regional Off- Track Betting Corp., reports that Tony bets on a horse at Batavia Downs named "Meadow's Gold." Since Tony's daughter is named Meadow, we have a hunch that Tony is playing a hunch.

"We provided the race footage and recorded the race call with track announcer Joe Zambito at Buffalo's Entercom studios," wrote Nevins.


>Sound and fury

The Geraldo Rivera-Bill O'Reilly shouting match last week over immigration on Fox News was less of a contest than the Sabres-Islanders series is expected to be. For once, Rivera seemed to be almost the calm, reasonable one. He unsuccessfully tried to get O'Reilly to face facts. It seemed as staged as a professional wrestling match, especially when the men practically kissed and made up before the show ended.


>Seinfeld on DVD

On June 5, the eighth season of "Seinfeld" is available on DVD. That's the wonderful year of "Yada, Yada, Yada" and "The Summer of George."

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