And They're Off!
An early peek at the fall ratings race
Commander in Chief
Can ABC be stopped?
Two weeks into the 2005-06 prime-time season the Alphabet network has taken a commanding ratings lead among viewers aged 18 to 49, the group advertisers covet most. The network's hot new shows from last season, Desperate Housewives and Lost, are even hotter this year. And while none of its new shows look like they'll be breakout hits, they at least show the potential to improve the network's performance on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Of course, the race for No. 1 in the prized demo will tighten once Fox's American Idol rolls in again come January. But here's how each of the networks has performed so far and what they'll need to do to improve.
ABC: With two consecutive weekly wins among viewers aged 18 to 49, the network is off to its best start since the 1994-95 season. Needed to succeed: for Commander in Chief to attract a younger audience. More than half of the 16.4 million who tuned in for the premiere were the older viewers Madison Avenue doesn't pay to reach. Invasion will also have to stop losing viewers from its Lost lead-in, or ABC will end up being no better off on Wednesdays at 10 pm than last year.
CBS: Still the most watched network and just off slightly from last year. It's now the ratings leader among 18-to 49-year-olds on Friday night with Ghost Whisperer, Threshold and Numbers. Criminal Minds is a credible second place against Lost. How I Met Your Mother is holding on to its King of Queens lead-in and shows promise of growing into a hit. Needed to succeed: a stronger performance from Monday-night comedies Two and a Half Men and Out of Practice. It's hard to replace a show like Everybody Loves Raymond, but the network is likely to be patient.
NBC: My Name Is Earl opened strong and the 10 pm dramas are resilient, but it has been a rough start for NBC, which has seen its 18-to-49 ratings drop 15 percent compared to the first two weeks of last season. Needed to succeed: Help! The only option is to take a pounding and hope the Winter Olympics can be a promotional platform for new mid-season shows.
Fox: Having actual shows to launch this fall instead of last year's hodgepodge of reality series is paying off. Fox is up 30 percent in the 18-to-49 demo thanks to Prison Break, returning hit House and a solid Sunday-night comedy lineup, which in previous years was launched after postseason baseball. Needed to succeed: For Bones to remain competitive so that it can be worthy of the American Idol lead-in it will get in January.
UPN: Thanks to the continued strength of America's Next Top Model, the move of WWE Smackdown to Fridays and a strong opening for Everybody Hates Chris, UPN is up 23 percent in younger viewers and has opened a lead on WB. Needed to succeed: for Chris to hold onto its audience against tough competition on Thursday. UPN also needs to find a drama that can attract more viewers than Veronica Mars.
WB: Supernatural is performing well after Gilmore Girls, and Smallville has put the lights on for the network on Thursday nights. But overall, it's been a slow start, down 18 percent in young viewers compared to last year. Needed to succeed: for new series Related (Wednesdays at 9 pm) to pull the kind of strong female following that has sustained the Gilmore Girls.