'Michael Richards' off to speedy start, 'Once & Again' lags behind

If there was any question about whether viewers would follow NBC’s “Frasier” to its new night, it was answered emphatically on Tuesday.

The laffer’s one-hour eighth-season premiere dominated the 9 o’clock hour, according to Nielsen, delivering the net’s largest audience in the slot (28.64 million viewers) since an episode of “Matlock” in September 1989. It also scored the best adults 18-49 rating on record for NBC in that hour (13.2/31).

“Frasier’s” boffo numbers highlighted a night that also included a fairly strong start for NBC’s “The Michael Richards Show,” meek ratings for the season preem of ABC’s “Once & Again,” and more record-low World Series ratings on Fox.

NBC won the night with an average of 19.04 million viewers and an 8.6/22 rating in the key advertiser demo of adults 18-49. This marks the first time that any net has won a night opposite the World Series since 1993 in viewers and 1995 in the demo.

Series stretches

It was good news/bad news for Fox and its coverage of the Fall Classic.

While Tuesday’s homes rating (12.4/21 and 17.45 million viewers) is the lowest ever for a Game 3, the Mets’ victory at least guaranteed that a fifth game would be necessary tonight. If a sixth or seventh game is needed to decide the best-of-seven series, the battle of New York will almost certainly avoid the tag of becoming the lowest-rated Series ever.

As it is, through three games Fox is averaging a 12.2 rating in homes — down 20% from last year’s three-game average for the Braves-Yankees series on NBC (15.3). It’s also 10% behind the 13.5 homes rating for the 1998 World Series (Padres-Yankees) on Fox, which had been the lowest-rated through three games and went on to average a lowest-ever 14.1 rating for its entirety (four games).

The World Series lost four of its six primetime half-hours Tuesday, winning only from 10-11. In the first hour, ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (17.77m) topped Fox’s baseball coverage (13.03m).

“Frasier” (28.64m) outdrew the World Series (17.67m) from 9-10. In fact, outside of the home teams’ city of New York — where it topped the comedy by 37 shares — NBC outdrew Fox in every other top 25 market, according to Nielsen.

“Frasier” will certainly see a big dropoff in upcoming weeks, but the big bow establishes the show as NBC’s Tuesday tentpole as it switches to the night after a two-year run on Thursday. It’s a key half-hour for NBC, which could be vulnerable on the night if the shaky sitcoms surrounding “Frasier” can’t produce.

‘Richards’ robust

At least for starters, NBC’s “Michael Richards Show” is looking good in the leadoff spot. The new, critically panned comedy, featuring the former “Seinfeld” star as a bumbling detective, won its half-hour in adults 18-49 (5.9/17) — NBC’s highest score for the debut of a new Tuesday series since 1996.

And at 8:30, vet “Third Rock From the Sun” (12.58 million) placed second in its slot in 18-49 (5.8/15), no doubt benefiting from pre-”Frasier” tune-in.

Both early-hour sitcoms will find things tougher next week when Fox’s winning sitcoms return.

ABC’s rookie sitcom “The Geena Davis Show” (7.85m, 3.5/8 in A18-49) took a pounding opposite “Frasier” and will now look to rebound in its next two outings, where it will face a special “Just Shoot Me” (next week) and the premiere of timeslot regular “DAG” on Nov. 14. Election coverage will preempt most comedies on Nov. 7.

‘Once’ forgotten?

ABC’s weak showing in the 9:30 slot made things tough for drama “Once & Again,” whose second-season premiere produced the series’ smallest audience to date (9 million), losing viewers in its second half-hour and finishing fourth. It was overpowered in total viewers by CBS’ “Judging Amy” (14.93m), which also won in adults 18-49 (4.6 to 4.4).

It’s a discouraging start for “Once,” a serialized drama that would have figured to get off the blocks stronger. Part of its problem may have been momentum: The show had not aired at all on ABC in the six months since its first season’s finale (April 24); it also finished last season on a different night (Monday).

NBC’s “Dateline” rode the “Frasier” wave to win the 10 p.m. hour in viewers (15.60m) and adults 18-49 (6.8/17), its highest marks for a regularly skedded Tuesday since March 1999.

The WB didn’t mind the night’s tough competition; in fact, it thrived without having to face Fox’s regularly skedded shows. Combo of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” averaged 5.9 million viewers and a 2.7/7 in adults 18-49, the netlet’s best Tuesdays numbers since the shows premiered four weeks earlier.

“Buffy” also scored an all-time best 3.9/12 in adults 18-34.

Overall, the night’s HUT level (homes using television) was a very strong 65.5% — the second highest of the season, behind only the 66.1% of homes in use on Oct. 3 (another Tuesday), the night of the first presidential debate and the “Dark Angel” premiere.

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