Letterman's King, but Not in L.A. : Television: Nielsen's February ratings place the late-night talk host in fourth, bested even by the last half of 'The Jerry Springer Show.'

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David Letterman is the king of late-night television nationwide, but not here. The results of the February ratings sweeps, released Thursday by the A.C. Nielsen Co., showed him running fourth in the Los Angeles-Orange County-Ventura County market.

Letterman hasn't done particularly well here since moving to CBS, but, while he usually trails Jay Leno and "The Tonight Show" on KNBC-TV Channel 4 and "Nightline" on KABC-TV Channel 7, last month he was even bested by the last half of "The Jerry Springer Show" on KCAL-TV Channel 9.

Greg Kasparian, vice president of audience measurement for CBS, explained that Letterman was hurt by Leno's L.A. base, low lead-in ratings on KCBS-TV Channel 2 and CBS' hard time on the West Coast in general because of the rural skew of its prime-time programs. But, while he trails in total household numbers, Letterman still attracts as many young adults as Leno, according to a KCBS spokeswoman.

As for the local news battles, rankings held true to recent form in February, even though the trial of O.J. Simpson played havoc with the daytime schedules of local stations--depressing ratings for some regularly scheduled programs while inflating others.

Bolstered by NBC's first prime-time sweeps victory in nearly four years, KNBC-TV Channel 4 again won the highly coveted 11 p.m. news race.

But archrival KABC-TV Channel 7 easily retained its dominance in news at 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., despite a lackluster performance by the lead-in "Oprah Winfrey Show," which was obviously hurt by viewer interest in live coverage of the Simpson trial.

In the early morning news race, KNBC squeaked out a 5,000-household victory over KABC from 6 to 7, with KTLA-TV Channel 5 finishing third and KTTV-TV Channel 11 a distant fourth.

KTLA, the perennial news champ among the independents and the station that was most committed to covering the trial, flourished in all other time periods. Channel 5's 7-9 a.m. news show more than tripled the audience of the competing news program on Channel 11 while trouncing the three network morning shows as well. KTLA also grabbed nearly twice as many viewers for coverage of the Simpson trial than any of the other stations that have broadcast it, including network-owned Channels 4, 11 and KCBS-TV Channel 2.

And KTLA's 10 p.m. newscast, as always, easily outpointed its three competitors.

The February sweeps are one of three monthlong ratings periods each year that are used by local stations for bragging rights and for setting some advertising rates.

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Ratings last month for some afternoon talk shows and most newscasts were down from their usual totals as interest in the Simpson trial drew viewers away. "Oprah," for example, lost 140,000 homes from the previous February. Newscasts at 4 p.m. on Channels 4 and 7, which often overlapped with the trial, also suffered.

The only exception was KABC's 6 p.m. newscast with anchors Laura Diaz and Paul Dandridge, which slightly increased its audience from a year ago and beat Channel 4 by 100,000 homes. By contrast, KABC won at 5 p.m. by just 40,000 homes.

KCBS finished a distant third at 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. With its new pairing of Jerry Dunphy and Ann Martin, the highest-paid anchor team in local news history, the station registered a smaller audience at 5 p.m. than it did the previous February and in November, the most recent sweeps period.

Martin, who is teamed with Michael Tuck at 11 p.m., was a disappointment there too compared to November, when she and KCBS finished second. This time, without the help of a strong showing by CBS in prime time, Martin and Tuck lost a good chunk of their former audience, while both KABC and KNBC showed large gains.

The overall struggles of KCBS also hurt such usually strong shows as "Hard Copy" and "Entertainment Tonight." "Hard Copy," airing at 7 p.m. on Channel 2, suffered a 40% hit on the totals it posted a year ago, when it was on Channel 4. It also dropped 15% from November, its first ratings period on Channel 2, sending it into a tie for fourth with "Extra," the first-year entertainment news program on Channel 4, trailing KABC's "Jeopardy!" and reruns of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" on KTLA and "Married . . . With Children" on KTTV.

"Entertainment Tonight," which airs at 7:30 p.m., lost 25% of its audience from November, dropping it into a virtual tie with KNBC's news show about the Simpson trial--and at least a whopping 250,000 homes behind both "Wheel of Fortune" on KABC and reruns of "The Simpsons" on KTTV.

Similarly, "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" on KNBC at 12:30 a.m. crushed the new late-night entry, "The Late Late Show With Tom Snyder," on KCBS.

In prime time, NBC won across the country by a wide margin, growing 21% over last year. ABC, up a smidgen, was second, and CBS--which lost 47% of its audience from February, 1994, when it carried the Winter Olympics--was third. Fox finished fourth, even as its totals increased 6% from a year ago.

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