ABC’s ‘Alias’ packs Sunday punch

'Law,' 'UC' grab OK ratings, Peacock on top perch

A trio of dramas bowed to promising ratings Sunday, with ABC’s “Alias” looking the strongest and dominating its timeslot.

NBC’s rookie pair of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “UC: Undercover” also launched to credible ratings Sunday, capping a strong Sept. 24-30 frame for the Peacock. When Nielsen issues opening-week numbers for the 2001-02 season today, NBC will prevail by all key measures — including convincing victories in demos.

ABC captured Sunday, according to prelim nationals from Nielsen, with a 5.5/14 in adults 18-49 (38% better than runner-up Fox’s 4.0/10) and 14.2 million viewers overall (topping second-place CBS’ 13.4 million by 6%). In both categories, the net was up vs. its opening Sunday of last season.

The 69-minute commercial-free preem of “Alias,” starring Jennifer Garner as a twentysomething spy, won the 9 o’clock hour (prelim 14.8m, 6.1/14 in A18-49), easily topping the first episode of NBC’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (12.7m, 4.4/10), which ran second. Because “Alias” aired until 10:09 — and was gaining ratings steam throughout its first hour — its final Nielsen national averages are expected to come up a bit when the 10-10:09 portion is factored in.

If there was one surprise in the overall strong “Alias” numbers, it’s that the show didn’t skew as young as had been expected. While it ruled its timeslot among kids, teens and adults 18-49, it placed second to Fox’s repeat of “Jerry Maguire” in adults 18-34 (prelim 6.0/16 vs. 4.8/12).

Ratings for the heavily promoted “Alias” are expected to go down next week (it doesn’t help that its second episode airs against the Emmys), but the skein could recruit some younger viewers when Fox shifts to baseball postseason games on Sundays beginning Oct. 14.

ABC also did well Sunday with “Wonderful World of Disney” pic “A Bug’s Life” (prelim 11.9m, 4.2/11 in A18-49), as the broadcast preem of the theatrical placed second and posted the net’s best 18-49 movie score from 7-9 p.m. since February. And at 10, “The Practice” (prelim 18.3m, 7.4/18) was the No. 1 program of the night, winning its hour by 7 shares and building upon its week-earlier premiere averages.

NBC’s new drama pair posted solid numbers, especially against such stiff ABC competition.

“Law & Order: CI” (prelim 12.7m, 4.4/10 in A18-49) and “UC: Undercover” (10.5m, 4.6/11) combined for a second-place 4.5 rating in adults 18-49, a 10% improvement over what NBC averaged with a movie last season.

“UC” seemed to pick up younger viewers from “Jerry Maguire” and “Alias,” as it built on its “Law & Order” lead-in by an impressive 21% in adults 18-34. It also grew in its second half-hour, building by 4% in 18-49 and by 14% in 18-34.

NBC didn’t fare as well from 7-9 p.m., as “Dateline” and “Weakest Link” left the net in fourth place in 18-49, albeit just 3 shares out of the lead.

’60 Minutes’ scores

CBS received another big score from “60 Minutes” as a football lead-in powered the newsmag to what will likely be its largest aud (projected 17 million) since February. Due to football, reliable prelim nationals aren’t available for the net’s 8 o’clock drama “The Education of Max Bickford,” although it appears to have come in about 10% below its week-earlier preem with about 15 million viewers and a 3.8 rating in 18-49.

Opposite the heavy drama competish, the Eye’s Sunday movie “Three Blind Mice” tanked (10.4m, 2.4 in 18-49), finishing below all but one CBS Sunday made-for from last season.

Fox, as usual, won in adults 18-34, edging out ABC in prelims, 4.7 to 4.4. “Jerry Maguire” accomplished its goal of making life difficult for “Alias,” building throughout the night and topping ABC’s new drama by 4 shares in women 18-34.

Projections for the first week of the season, meanwhile, have NBC roughly 19% ahead of its closest competitor (ABC) in adults 18-49 (5.6 vs. 4.7) and 8% ahead of CBS in total viewers (13.5m vs. 12.5m).

While the Peacock’s opening-week numbers were juiced by big premieres from “Frasier,” “Friends” and its strong debuting dramas, it also will have won without yet airing Wednesday dramas “Ed” and “The West Wing.”

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