ABC's Cusack laffer bows to boffo ratings

Viewers were curious enough about Joan Cusack to make her new ABC laffer a big winner in its Tuesday debut as “What About Joan” drew some of the net’s best midseason ratings in several years.

According to Nielsen, “Joan” won its 9:30 half-hour by most key measures, including decisive victories in total viewers (14.92 million) and adults 18-49 (6.8/16). “Joan” built on lead-in laffer “Dharma & Greg” by an impressive 17% in the demo (6.8 vs. 5.8) and by 8% in viewers overall.

It’s a very encouraging start for the comedy, whose premiere was timed to take advantage of the net’s huge audience for the Academy Awards two days earlier. ABC has underperformed in the post-“Dharma” slot the last three seasons with “Sports Night” and “The Geena Davis Show,” with “Joan” becoming the first ABC comedy to attract more viewers than the original “Dharma” preceding it.

The Columbia TriStar/Gracie Films romantic comedy, starring Cusack and Kyle Chandler, delivered the best ratings for an ABC sitcom in the Tuesday 9:30 slot since the premiere of “Geena Davis” in October. But on that night, “Geena” merely matched the demo score of “Dharma” (7.7/19) — and had the advantage of facing low-rated baseball action on NBC rather than that net’s comedies.

It’s the best showing for an ABC midseason series — comedy or drama — since March 1998 in total viewers (“Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place”) and since March 1999 in adults 18-49 (“Norm”).

“Joan,” which received mixed reviews, also seemed to energize the Alphabet’s entire night, as lead-in “Dharma” (5.8/14) and lead-out “NYPD Blue” (6.1/17) delivered their best demo scores in six weeks. “Blue,” airing opposite a repeat of CBS’ “Judging Amy,” also drew its largest overall aud in nine weeks (14.84 million).

ABC won the night in adults 18-49 (5.8/15) with its best average on a Tuesday since Jan. 9 (“The Mole” premiere) and in total viewers (16 million) with the biggest Tuesday gathering for its regular sked since Oct. 10 (“Geena Davis” bow).

‘Sisters’ slips

“Joan” sent NBC’s midseason laffer “Three Sisters” to its lowest marks for an episode after an original “Frasier” (10.77m, 5.1/12 in A18-49). “Sisters,” which bowed to big numbers in January and has performed well in a cushy timeslot, retained 75% of its “Frasier” 18-49 lead-in (5.1 vs. 6.8).

A stronger ABC also affected the other nets in the 9 o’clock hour as Fox’s “Dark Angel” fell to firstrun lows (9.51m, 4.2/10 in A18-49) and CBS’ “60 Minutes II” was a lackluster third in total viewers (10.40m) and a distant fourth in all demos.

“Dark Angel” has faded to solid but unspectacular numbers, winning its hour Tuesday in men 18-34 and teens but no longer the broad hit it first appeared. Teamed with winning comedies “That ’70s Show” and “Titus,” “Dark Angel” still makes for a solid lineup for Fox, which again easily won Tuesday in adults 18-34 and teens.

‘Fighting’ shows life

Another comedy enjoying a strong outing on Tuesday was NBC’s midseason entry “The Fighting Fitzgeralds” (9.82m, 4.0/11 in A18-49). Laffer, which had performed well sandwiched between episodes of “Frasier” the last three weeks, looked surprisingly strong in its first try in the leadoff half-hour.

Compared with the previous six episodes of NBC’s “Third Rock From the Sun” to air in the 8 p.m. slot, “Fitzgeralds” was up by 24% in total viewers (9.82m vs. 7.90m) and by 29% in 18-49 (4.0 vs. 3.1). It was still well behind comedy foe ” ’70s Show” on Fox (11.21m, 6.1/17 in A18-49), but it finished just behind second-place ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in the demo (4.2/12).

Things went sour for NBC at 8:30, though, as many viewers bailed from the Peacock’s “DAG” (7.90m, 3.4/9 in A18-49) before coming back at 9 for “Frasier” — the night’s No. 1 comedy in total viewers (15.67m) and adults 18-49 (6.8/17, tied with “Joan”).

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