Viacom Rocks on Thursday

Sep 26, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The first full week of fall premieres saw dreams realized and hearts broken as Viacom’s broadcast networks, CBS and UPN, enjoyed record-setting ratings performance Thursday, television’s most lucrative evening.

CBS, led by “Survivor: Guatemala,” scored its largest margin of victory on a premiere Thursday since the advent of people meters, while sister network UPN enjoyed its biggest program premiere ever with the highly anticipated “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Viacom’s dominance coincided with the continued humiliation of NBC on Thursdays, an evening it had dominated for the decade before last year. The one-hour premiere of sophomore comedy “Joey” got off to a disappointing start with 7.5 million viewers and a 3.0 rating in the 18 to 49 demo, according to final national data from Nielsen Media Research, compared with 7.8 million viewers and a 3.2 rating for “Chris” in the demo.

Heavily promoted and critically praised, “Chris” won its half-hour in the demo in New York, San Francisco and Washington, and finished second in the demo in Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. “It definitely met our expectation,” UPN President Dawn Ostroff said of “Chris” on Friday.

That wasn’t the only bad news for NBC. “The Apprentice” franchise took its second body blow in two nights Thursday night. The fourth iteration of the Donald Trump version opened Thursday with 9.9 million viewers and a 4.6 in the demo, down 37 percent and 38 percent, respectively, from a year ago. And that was just one night after “The Donald” and reality guru Mark Burnett unveiled “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” to 7.7 million viewers in the fast nationals, slightly more than half the audience competitors had projected. Perhaps more alarmingly, Ms. Stewart’s “Apprentice” lost viewers in the final national ratings, where she ended up with less than 7.1 million.

The final blow to NBC Thursday was delivered by CBS’s “Criminal Minds” star Mandy Patinkin in a sort of payback ratings performance. Mr. Patinkin 12 seasons ago went head-to-head with NBC’s “ER” and lost when he starred in CBS’s “Chicago Hope.” Last Thursday, however, it was “ER” that lost when “Criminal Minds” got a special premiere in “Without a Trace’s” time slot at 10 p.m. (ET). The new CBS crime drama beat “ER” in viewers (19.6 million to 14.4 million) and the demo (6.5 to 6.4).

The big winner on Thursday, “Survivor,” attracted 17 million viewers, delivering a 6.1 in the demo. CBS was also pleased with the return of “CSI” (29 million, 10.2).

Despite its good start, “Criminal” still faces a major challenge when it debuts in its regular time slot at 9 p.m. Wednesday. It will be up against ABC’s critical and audience hit “Lost,” which started its second season last week as the most-watched fall drama in 10 years (23.5 million viewers).

In the wake of “Lost,” ABC’S sci-fi freshman “Invasion” beat NBC’s “Law & Order” in total viewers and a repeat of CBS’s “CSI’s” biggest episode of last season in the demo.

Stephen McPherson, president of ABC Primetime Entertainment, said he was expecting “Lost” to return in a big way. “I got a sense over the summer that there was kind of a building momentum,” he said.

In more bad news for NBC, “E-Ring,” the Dennis Hopper-Benjamin Bratt Pentagon hour drama, debuted as the network’s weakest scripted show since at least 1991 in the Wednesday 9 p.m. time slot.

There was, however, a bright spot last week for NBC. On Tuesday night at 9 p.m. the warmly reviewed “My Name Is Earl” was the night’s No. 1 show in the demo. It led its time period in all key ratings categories. Compared with NBC’s average in the same half-hour last season, it was up 83 percent (6.6 versus 3.6).

Also on Tuesday, NBC’s entry in the sci-fi competition, “Surface,” outperformed many expectations. The 8 p.m. premiere was the time period’s No. 1 nonsports show in 18 to 49 and other key categories. From its first half-hour to its second, “Surface” increased its 18 to 49 rating by 17 percent and its total audience by 1.2 million viewers.

Fox, which has enjoyed some promising starts, especially for Tuesday night shows “House” and “Bones,” notched the first cancellation of the season last week when it dumped “Head Cases” after only two installments. But the network still could point to year-to-year gains of 45 percent in the demo and 51 percent in total viewers over the first four nights last week.

UPN also recorded year-to-year increases on each of its season-opening nights, including “Friday Night Smackdown!” on Sept. 16. “So far so good,” Ms. Ostroff said.

The WB was pleased to see “Supernatural” retain 96 percent of its 12 to 34 demo from Week 1 to Week 2 and to grow 60 percent in female teens week to week. It also retained the vast majority of its “Gilmore Girls” lead-in.