Frenzy for ‘Friends’

Season's preem a Thurs. peak; new series meek

The eighth-season premiere of NBC’s “Friends” truly was “Must See TV” for nearly 32 million people Thursday, as the laffer drew its largest aud in more than five years.

New series, meanwhile, continue to meet with tepid to moderate viewer interest, as neither “Inside Schwartz” nor “The Agency” distinguished itself on Thursday, and Friday and Saturday saw more disappointing results, including soft bows for Fox’s “Pasadena,” ABC’s “The Mole 2” and CBS’ “Citizen Baines.”

According to Nielsen Media Research, NBC rolled on the opening Thursday of the season, although it was down 7% in adults 18-49 vs. a year ago, when it aired two episodes of “Friends” from 8-9 p.m.

“Friends” kicked off the night by delivering its largest aud since February 1996 (31.70 million) and its best 18-49 rating since its 1998 season premiere (15.8/43). It scored a staggering 58 share among women 18-34, topping the combined ABC-CBS-Fox competition by 44 shares.

Peacock’s new 8:30 laffer, “Inside Schwartz” (22.51m, 11.4/29 in 18-49), retained 72% of the “Friends” 18-49 aud (11.4 vs. 15.8) — usually not a good hold, but in this case the retention could be a bit misleading, as many viewers likely came to their sets for “Friends” only on this night. Sports-themed comedy retained 74% of its men 18-34 lead-in (9.7 vs. 13.1).

At 9, the season bow of “Will & Grace” (20.64m, 11.5/28 in A18-49) fell 14% behind last year in 18-49 (when it had a stronger lead-in) and fell behind “Schwartz” in total viewers and male demos. Still, “Will” won its half-hour by 10 shares in 18-49, while 9:30’s “Just Shoot Me” (18.60m, 10.6/25), which was off by just 6% year to year (10.6 vs. 11.3), won its slot by 5 shares.

“ER” closed out the night with an easy victory over CBS’ new CIA drama “The Agency” (11.98m, 4.3/11) and ABC’s “Primetime” (10.67m, 3.2/8), although the medical drama won its hour in 18-49 by a “mere” 17 shares, down from 26 last season.

CBS got decent sampling for “The Agency” but viewership tailed off in the second half-hour. It retained 55% of its 18-49 lead-in from “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” a better hold than the woeful 48% that “Big Apple” did in the slot last spring but likely still below what the Eye would like to see.

“Agency’s” best retention of its “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” lead-in came among men 25-54 (62%), but that still left the Eye entry well behind “ER” (4.8/11 vs. 11.4/27).

Strong evidence

“CSI,” meanwhile, launched its second season with huge numbers (22.27m, 7.8/19 in A18-49), winning its hour in total viewers and placing a strong second to NBC in key demos.

CBS was the only net to improve upon its opening Thursday of a year ago (including up 135% in 18-49).

Stability paid off for NBC on Friday, as the net’s same lineup from last season won every half-hour in 18-49. Net was down 7% vs. its opening Friday of a year ago (4.2 vs. 4.5), but that’s much better than the other nets, each of whose lineups started from scratch: CBS was off by 47% year to year (2.5 vs. 4.7), Fox by 29% (2.7 vs. 3.8) and ABC by 19% (3.0 vs. 3.7).

CBS did OK at 8 with “Ellen,” which finished third in 18-49 (prelim 2.3/9) and viewers (7.1 million), but then tripped at 8:30 with new Daniel Stern laffer “Danny” (prelim 6.2m, 2.1/7) and the second-season debut of “That’s Life” (prelim 7 million, 2.2/7).

No roses for ‘Pasadena’

Fox also did OK with “Dark Angel” (prelim 7.4m, 3.2/12 in A18-49), which finished in a virtual tie with NBC’s “Providence” for the 18-49 lead and won in 18-34, but new soap “Pasadena” (4.8m, 2.1/7) bombed at 9 in an hour that has been one of the net’s weakest in recent years.

ABC’s reality series “The Mole 2” got off to a disappointing start, finishing fourth in viewers (prelim 5.4m) and third in 18-49 (2.2/8).

Net did better at 9 with the series premiere of John Stamos drama “Thieves” (9.4m, 3.7/12 in A18-49), which finished second to NBC’s “Dateline” (13.9m, 4.2/13) and won its hour in some male demos. And at 10, “Once & Again” (prelim 7.2m, 3.1/10) finished well behind its drama foe, NBC’s “Law & Order” (prelim 15.4m, 5.1/16), which was up in viewers and flat in the demo vs. last season.

ABC rolled on Saturday with a repeat of theatrical “Forrest Gump” (prelim 10.9m, 4.6/14 in A18-49), leading the net to victory by 5 shares over runner-up Fox in 18-49.

CBS drama “Citizen Baines” (prelim 9.4m, 2.2/7 in A18-49) was unimpressive in its bow, failing to build on lead-in “Touched by an Angel” (2.3/8) in the demo and providing a weak lead-in for “The District,” whose prelim averages (11.8m, 3.0/9 in A18-49) were below all but one of its firstrun scores of last season.

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