Friday bows 'Joan' & 'Hope' impress; Thursday off

Viewers turned out in big numbers for a pair of Friday preems, as CBS drama “Joan of Arcadia” and ABC comedy “Hope & Faith” impressed in their bows. New Eye drama “The Handler” also looked solid on the night.

Thursday, meanwhile, was another two-horse race between NBC and CBS, although the biggies on both networks (“Friends,” “ER,” “Survivor” and “CSI”) were all down by double-digit percentages vs. last year. Most alarming was the roughly 30% decline for NBC leadoff hitter “Friends,” as it kicked off its 10th and final season.

Much-hyped Peacock laffer “Coupling” didn’t do anything special in its Thursday bow post-“Will & Grace.”

And Saturday went to ABC’s preem of “Wonderful World of Disney” on its new night, as the theatrical “Remember the Titans” rolled to a demo victory, continuing an upbeat start to the season for the Alphabet.

CBS looked impressive on Friday with its trio of dramas, highlighted by Amber Tamblyn starrer “Joan of Arcadia” (3.6/13 in adults 18-49, 13.2 million viewers overall) and including potent debuts for the relocated “JAG” (3.3/10, 13.8m) and new Joe Pantoliano crime hour “The Handler” (3.3/11, 12.6m), according to prelim results from Nielsen.

CBS close second

The Eye was a close second to ABC in adults 18-49 prelims (3.4/11 vs. 3.7/12) while winning in adults 25-54 and sweeping the night’s half-hours in total viewers. ABC was solid throughout the night as well with the return of branded night “TGIF,” which led among viewers under 35.

The gains of CBS (up 31% year-to-year in 18-49) and ABC (up 48%) came at the expense of NBC (down 30%), whose “Miss Match” was nothing special, and Fox (down 30%), whose “Luis” struggled in the net’s shaky lineup. The WB’s comedy block also was down, affected by ABC’s laffers.

The well-reviewed “Joan,” from Sony and CBS Prods., led its hour in 18-49, 25-54 and total viewers, giving the Eye its best regular-program delivery in the night’s 8 o’clock hour since October 2000 in demos (“The Fugitive”) and since January 1999 in overall audience (“Kids Say the Darndest Things”). It did a strong 16 share in adults 25-54.

“Hope & Faith,” starring Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford, easily led at 9 in adults 18-49 (prelim 4.7/15), rating as the top show of the night in the demo and giving ABC its best Friday premiere score there since September 1996 (“Sabrina the Teenage Witch”).

Strong femme demos

The Touchstone comedy posted the best femme demos in its slot for ABC in more than 3½ years.

A one-hour “George Lopez” (prelim 3.2/12 in 18-49) was a solid second at 8 and “20/20″ won at 10 in 18-49 (prelim 3.5/11), up 21% vs. last year. And second-year “Life With Bonnie” performed well at 9:30, leading in 18-49 (prelim 3.9/12) and retaining a solid 83% of the “Hope” lead-in.

“Married to the Kellys” joins the ABC Friday lineup this week at 8:30.

Elsewhere in prelim Friday results, “The Handler” led at 10 in 25-54 (4.9/14) and defeated drama competish “Boomtown” on NBC by 14% in 18-49; “JAG” ran second in 25-54 at 9 (4.7/13); Alicia Silverstone drama “Miss Match” ran third in 18-49 at 8 (2.8/10) but led in women 18-34; and Fox’s “Luis” (1.5/5 in 18-49) and “Boston Public” (2.1/7) both ran fourth.

On Thursday, NBC led in all significant ratings categories and also edged out CBS in total viewers. NBC’s advantage over CBS in 18-49 (10.4/27 vs. 7.6/20) was shaved to 37% as the Peacock was off 16% year-to-year and the Eye by 13%.

‘Friends’ tops in demo

“Friends,” without a real cliffhanger to start the season, was the evening’s (and week’s) top program in 18-49 (11.8/33), dominating its 45-minute slot despite being down a big 29% vs. last year. “Will & Grace” (10.3/26 in 18-49) held up better in comparisons with its 41-minute opener, but “ER” (10.7/28 in 18-49) was off by 19% although it dominated its hour in all key measures with its 10th-season premiere.

At 9:30, new sexed-up comedy “Coupling” (7.8/19 in 18-49, 15.30m) retained 76% of its lead-in from “Will & Grace,” down from the 81% hold for “Good Morning Miami” last season. It’s still the season’s top new comedy in key demos.

At CBS, “Survivor” (7.5/21 in 18-49, 19.86m) was a strong second from 8 to 9 despite a 13% falloff vs. last year, while lead-out “CSI” (9.7/24 in 18-49, 26.91m) declined by 16% but remained the night’s most-watched show and easily led its hour in adults 25-54 (12.1/27).

“Without a Trace” finished Thursday with solid second-place numbers for CBS (5.7/15 in 18-49, 16.68m), off just 2% year-to-year in 18-49 and up in overall audience despite the slippage for its lead-ins.

ABC ran third on Thursday in 18-49, with Fox and UPN tied for fourth.

Saturday was ruled by “Remember the Titans” (prelim 3.5/11 in 18-49), the net’s best showing here in one year. CBS’ lineup, boosted by a college football overrun, ran second in 25-54 and won the night in total viewers.

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