'Millionaire' gives ABC some needed help

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” has boosted ABC’s Friday’s fortunes, although it doesn’t appear to be enough to make the net a real player on the night.

In its first try as a series regular on Friday, “Millionaire” won the 8 p.m. hour in viewers (prelim 15.3 million) and placed third in adults 18-49 (prelim 3.6/10), according to Nielsen estimates.

While these are low scores for the quizzer, they represent significant improvement for ABC in the time period — up 138% in viewers and 33% in the demo vs. firstrun series programming this season.

A stronger showing in the opening hour helped ABC’s “Two Guys and a Girl,” airing in its new 9 p.m. slot for the first time, deliver its best 18-49 rating of the season (prelim 3.7/10), but “Norm” fell off a bit at 9:30 (3.0/8). Both comedies placed third in their time periods, ahead of Fox’s “Freakylinks” (prelim 2.4/6), which had an unspectacular return after an eight-week absence from the sked.

ABC climbs

For the 8 to 10 p.m. block, ABC’s estimated 18-49 rating of 3.5 is a 30% improvement over the 2.7 it had averaged with regular programming this season.

NBC won the night in viewers (13.4 million) with ABC and CBS, whose two of three dramas were in repeats, battling for second (11.2 million). The Peacock easily won in adults 18-49 (4.9/14), 4 shares ahead of the other three major nets.

Oddly, “Millionaire” may end up helping both CBS and NBC in the 9 o’clock hour.

ABC’s comedies lost more than 7 million viewers from their quizzer lead-in, with many of them appearing to pad the totals of the Eye’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (whose repeat won the hour in viewers with roughly 15 million) and the Peacock’s “Dateline,” which won the hour in adults 18-49 with its best rating since March 3 (prelim 4.7/13) while drawing its largest overall aud (prelim 13.8 million) since last January.

‘Providence’ stands strong

NBC’s “Providence” held up well opposite “Millionaire,” tying Fox’s “Police Videos” for the hour lead in adults 18-49 (prelim 4.7/14) with its best score since March and its largest overall audience (prelim 13.1 million) for a one-hour seg this season.

All shows, meanwhile, are benefiting from higher levels of TV usage, which usually peak for the year in January.

Fridays get even more interesting this week when the weblets premiere new series. UPN will preem “Gary & Mike” at 8 and “Celebrity Deathmatch” at 8:30, with the WB bowing a one-hour episode of reality-based music skein “Pop Stars” at 9.

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