'Normal' boosts night for Fox

HOLLYWOOD — Fox’s gay-themed John Goodman laffer “Normal, Ohio” bowed impressively Wednesday night, but auds weren’t as bullish about the net’s Darren Star sudser “The Street.”

Even with the mixed results, Fox’s start-from-scratch lineup performed well enough to place a close third in adults 18-49 on the night (5.0/13), behind NBC (5.4/14) and ABC (5.2/14). Net also delivered its best Wednesday ratings among men 18-49 and 25-54 since May 1998.

According to Nielsen, the series premiere of “Normal” (6.1/16) retained a strong 95% of its adults 18-49 lead-in from a special Halloween “Simpsons” episode (6.4/18). Fox won the half-hour in the demo and placed second in total viewers (12.17 million) with its best Wednesday premiere scores since March 1995 (“Sliders”).

The laffer, in which Goodman plays a gay father who returns to his family’s Ohio hometown, also won its 8:30 timeslot in adults 18-34 (6.5/19), men 18-49 (6.6/16) and teens (5.7/17). It would appear to have the young-male crowd to itself, as three of its timeslot foes (“Welcome to New York,” “Titans” and “Dawson’s Creek”) skew heavily female and a fourth, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” also leans in that direction.

Of course, having the traditionally high-rated Halloween episode of “The Simpsons” as a lead-in certainly helped. The toon vet kicked off its 12th season with a first-place showing in adults 18-49 (6.4/18) and adults 18-34 (7.6/23), including a dominant 18-share victory among men 18-34.

At 9 p.m., “The Street” landed Fox in third place in adults 18-49 (3.7/9) and fourth in viewers (7.26 million) but just behind second-place “West Wing” in 18-34 (4.5/12 vs. 4.7/13).

‘Felicity’ hits ‘Street’

It did well among men, but couldn’t pull away enough young women from incumbent timeslot winners “Drew Carey” and “The West Wing.” In a surprise, the WB’s “Felicity” matched “Street” among women 18-34 (4.2/11), delivering its best rating ever in that demo for any episode not airing opposite a debate.

Fox figures to be patient with “The Street,” though, since the net’s Wednesday soaps of years past (“Beverly Hills, 90210″ and “Party of Five” ) have been slow starters.

Net lost both “90210” and “Party” after last season, necessitating a complete revamp of the night. During November sweeps, firstrun segs of Sunday hit “Malcolm in the Middle” will lead into “Normal,” affording both of Fox’s Wednesday newcomers their best chance to shine in tough slots.

Fox’s strong showing in the 8 o’clock hour made things much tougher for CBS laffers “Bette” and “Welcome to New York,” which declined to their lowest marks yet. “Bette” (3.7/10) fell behind ABC’s “Millionaire” (4.6/13) in 18-49 for the first time in four tries, while at 8:30, “Welcome” (2.9/8) dropped to fourth.

NBC’s “Titans” remained fourth in both viewers (7.23 million) and 18-49 (2.8/8), although it moved ahead of “Welcome” at 8:30 for the first time.

NBC bests ABC

The Peacock, which edged past ABC for the night in total viewers (14.4 million to 14.2), won the final four half-hours by that measure and three of the last four in 18-49. “The West Wing” (18.47 million, 6.8/16) was surprisingly unfazed by drama competish from “The Street,” logging its second-best ratings to date and performing better than lead-out “Law & Order” for the first time.

ABC was led by a demo victory at 9 for “Drew Carey” (6.7/16 in A18-49), another strong showing for “Spin City” (first in adults 18-34) and the largest Wednesday aud of the season for “Millionaire” (20.37 million), which won its hour in adults 25-54 (6.4/15).

Net’s “Gideon’s Crossing” picked up a bit in 18-49 (4.1/11), although it remained 7 shares behind NBC’s “Law & Order” (6.7/18).

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