‘Critic’ critique: A 10 for openers

Viewers voted thumbs up on sampling the new ABC animated series “The Critic,” which was introduced Wednesday as the meat in a “Home Improvement” sandwich.

The animated half-hour from James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films scored a 15.5 rating, 23 share on the Nielsen meter — the highest rating and best lead-in retention (87%) among the three new series to air this season between installments of the Disney hit.

The regular airing of “Home Improvement,” meanwhile, hammered out a 24.9/35, a rating topped only by the episodethat preceded last February’s Michael Jackson-Oprah Winfrey interview. “Grace Under Fire” (20.0/29) also hit its best rating.

Demographically, “The Critic” polled a 26 share of adults 18-49 and equaled or surpassed its lead-in with 48 and 34 shares, respectively, of children and teens. The challenge now will be how well the program retains that audience next week with “Thea” back in the lead-off slot.

The news wasn’t all good for ABC, as “Birdland” dipped at 10 p.m., allowing CBS’ “48 Hours” (14.3/24) to achieve its highest rating since March.

The night’s other series premiere was the Warner Bros. Prime Time Entertainment Network sci-fi hour “Babylon 5,” which averaged a 7.0/10 in 22 Nielsen-metered markets, including a 12.0/17 locally on KCOP. National ratings won’t be available for a few weeks on the show, which is cleared on 177 stations representing 93% of the U.S.

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