‘Gunmen’ take hit

'X-Files' spinoff down from bow; mini flops

Fox’s “X-Files” spinoff “The Lone Gunmen” suffered a steep ratings drop-off in its second episode Sunday, a night that also saw the once-unstoppable special-effects mini genre hit the wall with the opening night of NBC’s “The Lost Empire.”

According to prelim Nielsen nationals, “Lone Gunmen” dropped 35% in adults 18-49 (to a 4.3/10) and 32% in total viewers (to 9 million) from its strong premiere numbers a week earlier. It still won its hour in adults 18-34 (prelim 4.5/11), teens and some male demos but fell 1 share behind ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in 18-49.

Losing ‘Middle’ ground

Series, which moves to Friday this week but will air one more time on Sunday, retained a weak 62% of its 18-49 lead-in from a firstrun “Malcolm in the Middle” (prelim 4.3 vs. 6.9). There will be less pressure on “Gunmen” to perform at 9 p.m. Fridays — where Fox has yet to find anything that clicks this season — although the net would like to see stronger numbers in the hour since 8 p.m. show “Police Videos” generally wins its slot in younger demos.

“Gunmen” still fared much better than NBC’s “Lost Empire” (prelim 7 million, 2.6/16 in A18-49), which will rank as the net’s lowest-rated firstrun made-for of the season and likely will go down as the lowest-rated original multiparter ever to air on a major net.

Robert Halmi Sr.’s “Lost Empire,” starring Thomas Gibson as an American caught in an epic battle between Chinese gods, fell 54% behind the opening-night score of “The 10th Kingdom” a year ago in adults 18-49 (2.6 vs. 5.7) — although that flop premiered in the February sweeps and thus received considerably more promotion and publicity than the under-the-radar “Empire.”

NBC originally skedded “Lost Empire” to air during last month’s sweeps, but moved it to March in part because of the dwindling ratings that other special effects/fantasy minis have generated of late.

Minis’ major fall-off

As recently as two years ago, Halmi’s projects like “Noah’s Ark” and “Alice in Wonderland” drew boffo ratings. Perhaps because of a glut of product, though, last season’s “The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns” and “Jason and the Argonauts” joined “10th Kingdom” as ratings disappointments.

Sunday was a tough night for the broadcast nets in general as cable stepped up with high-profile programming like HBO’s “The Sopranos,” TNT’s coverage of the SAG Awards and Discovery Channel’s latest “Mammoth” spec. Ratings for these programs will be released today

Pax also chipped away at the nets as the two-hour series preem of Billy Ray Cyrus starrer “Doc” delivered the net’s best Sunday overnight ratings ever (2.5/4).

Based on prelims for the weekend, ABC and CBS are projected to tie for the week’s lead in adults 18-49 (4.0 each), while the Eye should eke out a total-viewers victory.

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