Benjamin Svetkey
June 17, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Judging from last week’s Nielsen ratings, Americans still like Ike. The slew of TV specials marking the 50th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy, led by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, was the surprise hit of the TV season — which means that more D-Day celebrations will advance onto the airwaves and into video stores in weeks to come.

”Almost every family has someone who served in the war,” says John Hendricks, chairman and CEO of cable’s Discovery Channel, which drew 2.2 million households (a Discovery record) with its special, Normandy: The Great Crusade, and has already released book, video, and CD-ROM companions. ”I think a lot of Americans still realize how much was at stake.”

Even more realize it now: CNN’s specials — CNN Presents D-Day and D-Day Remembrances — pulled in 445,000 and 495,000 households, respectively. A&E’s D-Day: The Total Story drew 2.2 million households. ABC’s Turning Point, anchored by Peter Jennings, garnered 18.2 million viewers, while 13.6 million viewers watched Dan Rather team up with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf for CBS’ D-Day. The first of PBS’ four specials, The American Experience: D-Day, hosted by author and historian David McCullough, was the network’s highest-rated program of the month with nearly 4.9 million viewers (it’s being released on video in early July). Even The Weather Channel got a ratings boost of as much as 58 percent with its D-Day: Forecast for Victory, a documentary series about how bumbling Nazi weathermen helped Germany lose the war with bad meteorological predictions.

”My guess is that the success of these shows means a lot of networks are already looking forward to next year and planning more 50-year specials,” says Hendricks. ”There’s still more of the war left to celebrate. Um, wasn’t the invasion of Iwo Jima in 1945?”

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