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Battle Brews for Wednesday Night

Sep 27, 2004  •  Post A Comment

“CSI: N.Y.” edged out “Law & Order” at 10 p.m. last Wednesday in their first head-to-head competition, but both shows were upstaged by the debut earlier that night of ABC’s new drama “Lost.”

Since the May 2004 upfronts, industry insiders have been gearing up for the competition between CBS’s newest addition to the “CSI” franchise and NBC stalwart “Law & Order.” But the real Wednesday night drama turned out to be the out-of-the-gate performance of ABC’s new show about plane crash survivors on a mysterious island. “Lost” brought in 18.65 million viewers and a 6.8 rating and 20 share in the adults 18 to 49 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research, winning the network its largest drama premiere audience in nine years. The Touchstone Television-produced show was also the most-watched nonfranchise drama debut since “Providence” premiered on NBC in 1999.

“Lost” beat both the special 9 p.m. episode of “Law & Order” and the regularly scheduled 10 p.m. episode of that show in adults 18 to 49 and came in second for the night in the demo only to “CSI: N.Y.”

“We’re encouraged by the numbers,” said Stephen McPherson, ABC president of prime-time entertainment. “It was nice to see a show launch at 8 [p.m.].”

Roy Rothstein, VP director, national broadcast research for Zenith Media, said he knew ABC was taking an aggressive approach to touting “Lost” since he was home sick the day before the premiere and saw spots for the show running during “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“They invested a lot of money in promotion,” Mr. Rothstein said. “They backed it up. It’s an important show to them.”

Mr. McPherson said “Lost” marked the network’s first outdoor ad buys in five years and a much more targeted use of cable and print ads for ABC.

“There’s been kind of a tradition of having promotions that [were] all over the place in terms of different sells in different time periods,” he said. “We wanted to have a really focused campaign.”

Wednesday night didn’t belong, however, to ABC, especially considering the two-hour premiere of “The Bachelor” averaged only a 3.7/10 in the demo and 8.19 million viewers.

“They have to be disappointed,” Mr. Rothstein said. “But then again that’s the kind of show that will build over the season.”

Crime Fighting

At 10 p.m. “CSI: N.Y.” did something that no show had done in years-beat “Law & Order.” CBS’s newest spinoff of the “CSI” franchise drew 19.26 million viewers to its premiere, besting “Law & Order’s” 15.39 million viewers in the time period by 25 percent. “CSI: N.Y.” also beat “Law & Order” in adults 18 to 49, 7.1/19 to 5.5/14.

Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP of programming operations for CBS and UPN, was pleased with “CSI: NY’s” debut because it shows “for the first time in about 20 years we can be competitive on Wednesdays at 10.”

“In one sense internally we think there is too much being made [of the competition between] `Law & Order’ and `CSI NY,”‘ he said. “What we’re most gratified is we’ve come a long ways. We can compete in most time periods, and not just in viewers but in demos.”

NBC’s Tom Bierbaum, VP, ratings and program information, said “Law & Order” performed well considering what it was up against. “We knew they had a big lead-in,” he said. “We felt like we did a very strong number on a very competitive night.”

The “CSI: N.Y.” lead-in was a two-hour “Dr. Phil” special, which scored a 4.7/13 in the adults 18 to 49 demo and 13.08 million viewers. But NBC also made sure the 10 p.m. slot had its own special lead-in, the season premiere of “Law & Order.” The 9 p.m. “Law & Order” outperformed “Dr. Phil” with a 6.4/16 in adults 18 to 49 and with a total viewer number of 18.86 million. The one dark spot on NBC’s schedule was “Hawaii,” which suffered from increased competition, dropping 21 percent in the adults 18 to 49 demo to 2.2/6 from last week’s 2.8/8.

“It’s clearly an atypical night,” Mr. Bierbaum said of all the Wednesday 8 p.m. premieres, which included the hyped season debuts of UPN’s “America’s Next Top Model” and The WB’s “Smallville” in addition to the launch of “Lost.” “It’s a lot more important where `Hawaii’ will be against more typical competition.”

The WB beat UPN at 8 p.m. with the season premiere of “Smallville” in adults 18 to 49, 3.0/9 to 1.8/5. The WB was No. 2 in the time period overall in its key demo of adults 18 to 34. Mr. Kahl said he wasn’t concerned that “Top Model” was tripping on the runway, since it had changed time periods from last season.

“We made improvements from where we were last year with `Enterprise,”‘ he said. “The competition was a little tougher in both time periods than we expected. The goal is to get some eyeballs on it, and we got some eyeballs on it.”

The WB also outperformed UPN’s special premiere “Veronica Mars” in adults 18 to 49. “The Mountain” garnered a 1.7/4 to “Veronica Mars’s”‘ 1.0/3. Mr. Kahl said he was withholding judgement until the show debuts on Tuesdays at 9 p.m.

Mr. Kahl also said last Tuesday night’s finale of “The Amazing Race” helped explain why CBS was postponing the Saturday, Oct. 2 debut of the next installment of the show indefinitely.

“The best reality shows seem to give audiences a little time to breathe a little bit,” he said. “We felt we were rushing it. After seeing how well it has done over the summer, certainly it gives us other options. “

CBS Scores Thursday

Mr. Rothstein said CBS leaving “Race” on Saturdays would be a mistake. “Why waste a valuable property like this?” he said. “The show could definitely work on Tuesday night. I think this night is crying for a successful show.”

The season premieres of “CSI” and “Without a Trace” last Thursday continued CBS’s winning streak, helping the network take the night in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers.

“CSI” garnered a 11.4 rating and 28 share in adults 18 to 49, eclipsing the third episode of “The Apprentice’s” demo of 8.0/20 by 42 percent. At 10 p.m. (ET) CBS made history with “Without a Trace,” which became the first drama ever to beat an original “ER” episode in viewers (21.51 million vs. 19.69 million).

The season premiere of “ER” was ahead of CBS in adults 18 to 49 (9.8/25) but CBS took the night in the demo powered by its performance at 8 p.m. (ET) with “Survivor: Vanuatu-Island of Fire,” which scored a 7.5/22 compared to “Joey’s” 6.4/20 and”Will & Grace’s” 7.1/19. CBS won the night with 8.8/23 in adults 18 to 49 and 23.79 million viewers.