Diversity key to large weekly turnout

HOLLYWOOD — Several networks and a handful of rookie and returning series are off to strong starts this season, but the biggest early winner of the primetime ratings race is … Tuesday.

The night has become the most-watched of the week, according to ratings data and HUT levels provided by Nielsen, with the six broadcast nets averaging 62.5 million viewers combined, a 23.8 rating in adults 18-49 and a 25.3 rating in adults 25-54 — all up vs. last season. Overall, the percentage of Homes Using Television on Tuesday is 65.6, up slightly over last year for the same period and now ahead of both Monday (65.0) and Sunday (64.8), the two nights which generally have been the most watched.

The turnaround is all the more impressive given that, unlike the next three most-watched nights of the week (Monday, Sunday and Thursday), Tuesday is doing it without any help from sports like wrestling and football. (Monday, in particular, brings lots of additional male viewers to the set for ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”)

Tuesday is drawing the largest weekly turnout among viewers the old-fashioned way — by providing entertaining programs for the most diverse of audiences.

With shows like Fox’s “That ’70s Show” and the WB’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” catering to the younger set, and viewers 55-plus flocking to hits like ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and CBS’ “Judging Amy,” Tuesday has something for everybody. And the most recent addition to the mix — NBC’s “Frasier” — is a longtime fave that strikes a chord with various demographic groups, attracting a sizable following wherever it plays.

It’s no surprise, then, that the night has become one of the strongest for each of the major nets as well as the WB. In the first two months of the season, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox have each won on the night by one of the key ratings measurements, while the WB has logged some of its best Tuesday numbers in years.

And even UPN, which remains well behind the WB on the night, is nevertheless making strides in the right direction. Now going with a male-skewing movie against the competition, UPN is up a sizzling 44% in viewers and 63% in adults 18-49 vs. a year ago.

If there’s a single net to credit most for Tuesday’s popularity, though, it’s Fox.

Realizing the importance of having a strong presence on such a competitive night, the Murdoch web rolled the dice by moving Monday hits “That ’70s Show” and “Titus” to Tuesday’s leadoff hour and used them as a launch pad for the heavily touted (and hyped) “Dark Angel” at 9.

The gamble has paid off handsomely so far, with the comedies consistently vying for the lead among adults 18-49, and “Angel” a solid No. 2 in its hour (and tops in some male categories).

Season-to-date, Fox is up on Tuesday by 54% in viewers and by 34% in adults 18-49, but the gains don’t end there. Because of the broad appeal of “Dark Angel,” Fox’s Tuesday increase also includes a healthy 46% boost in teens and a staggering 185% rise among viewers 55-plus.

All of the nets are contributing to Tuesday’s overall bounce by serving up some of what they do best.

For example, while Fox generally emerges the winner in its strongest demo (men 18-34), overall demo leaders NBC and ABC consistently battle for the night’s 18-49 lead behind signature shows like “Frasier” and “Millionaire” respectively, while the WB is usually in the running for the women 18-34 lead with “Buffy” and “Angel.”

And at CBS, bread-and-butter shows like “JAG” and “60 Minutes II” keep the light on until 10, when “Judging Amy” cleans up, especially among the net’s strong suit of women 35-plus.

With the possible exception of competing comedies on ABC and NBC at 9, the nets aren’t cannibalizing each other on the night by fighting for the same audience.

It’s this kind of variety in programming — and, dare we say, teamwork by the nets — that makes for diverse viewer choices and winning ratings for all.

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