ABC’s freshman gamble pays off

Two laffers, 'Push' get Alphabet off to solid start

Article updated 9:30p.m.
ABC, in desperate need of a new hit, rolled the dice by premiering its three strongest fall programs on one night Tuesday, and the results were promising.

Laffers starring John Ritter and Bonnie Hunt looked especially perky in the ratings and won their timeslots, while quirky mystery “Push, Nevada” posted credible opening numbers with its special Tuesday preview but saw its aud drop off on the half-hour. All three programs are from Touchstone Television.

The Ritter show, “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” was most impressive, as its average aud of 17.29 million was the largest for any new ABC comedy to kick off a night in at least 10 years.

It’s a bit premature to call anything a hit after just one week, especially since these shows faced mostly repeat competish. But had this trio of programs tanked from the get-go, ABC would be left with its cupboard bare even before the official start of the fall season next week.

ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne said the mood was cautiously optimistic around the Alphabet web’s Burbank headquarters Wednesday.

“Obviously, we did believe we had strong shows,” Lyne said. “The issue was can we launch them, can we build the awareness. We needed to get these off the ground given our summer ratings, and we did. That’s a giant step accomplished.”

According to Nielsen, “8 Simple Rules” easily led the 8 o’clock half-hour in adults 18-49 (6.1/19) and total viewers (17.29 million). Hunt’s “Life With Bonnie” followed with similarly impressive numbers (16.11m, 6.0/16 in A18-49), also topping its timeslot.

These are slightly better scores than expected and ABC’s best showing in the hour since “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in March 2001. In total viewers, no ABC Tuesday comedy has opened the season bigger than “8 Simple Rules” since “Roseanne” in 1996.

“Bonnie,” which garnered the best reviews for any of the fall’s new comedies, built on “8 Simple Rules” in some demos, including 8% in women 25-54 (9.1 vs. 8.4). It moves to its regular 9 p.m. slot Oct. 1.

Fox laffers

Although four of the other five broadcast nets offered up repeats during the hour, ABC’s new comedies did face original segs of Fox laffers, which figure to be the Alphabet’s primary competition. Both “That ’70s Show” (5.2/16 in 18-49) and “Grounded for Life” (4.7/13) ran second in their slots while winning in the younger 18-34 demo.

” ’70s Show,” the timeslot leader last season in adults 18-49, was down 9% in rating from its opener last fall (5.7) while matching its share (16).

Fox won the night in adults 18-49, while ABC prevailed in adults 25-54 and total viewers.

News wasn’t as good for ABC at 9, as “Push, Nevada” tied for the 18-49 lead in its first half-hour (4.5/12) but fell to third at 9:30 (3.9/10). It won its hour in total viewers (11.99 million) but lost audience with each quarter-hour.

Mature audience

“Push” also didn’t skew as young as expected, delivering its best score in adults 25-54 (a timeslot-leading 5.2/12). It will have to play younger if it wants to succeed in its tough regular Thursday-at-9 slot, where it moves beginning tonight.

Lyne said the show has plenty of time to develop a following. “This is a niche program; this is not a show that we put on the schedule because it was going to be ‘Law & Order.’ It is targeted at a young, hip audience. We put it on Tuesday night for this week so we could hopefully get some sampling before it has to go up against the big guys on Thursday.”

Lyne added that the net managed to get sampled despite airing three very different shows in “8 Simple Rules,” “Bonnie” and “Push.”

“All three of these shows have somewhat different audiences, and we knew that going into the night,” she said. “Certainly ‘Bonnie’ was not the perfect lead-in to ‘Push.’ Our hope was each show would be sampled by the core audience that it’s meant for.”

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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