'Joan' a boon to Eye; Alphabet's faith in 'Hope'

Despite ratings declines, CBS drama “Joan of Arcadia” and ABC laffer “Hope & Faith” won their Friday timeslots again in week two, emerging as two of the strongest additions to the sked in the season’s early going.

The Eye and Alphabet webs finished in a tie for the Friday 18-49 lead, according to preliminary nationals from Nielsen; CBS, whose “JAG” and “The Handler” also look solid on the night, pulled ahead in 25-54 and total viewers. NBC, meanwhile, is struggling on a night it once dominated, as the new “Miss Match” dropped sharply from its mediocre bow and “Boomtown” is looking shaky at 10.

Amber Tamblyn starrer “Joan of Arcadia” (prelim 3.0/11 in 18-49, 12 million viewers overall) led its hour in adults 18-49, 25-54 and total viewers, declining an acceptable 17% in 18-49 from its preem. It opened up a bigger gap on NBC’s “Miss Match,” which was down 29% in 18-49 (to third-place 2.0/7).

Eye’s new “The Handler” (prelim 2.7/9 in 18-49, 10.6m) declined by 18% from its preem but moved to the hour’s lead in 18-49 — ahead of both ABC’s “20/20″ (2.5/8) and NBC’s “Boomtown” (2.2/7).

ABC’s “Hope & Faith,” starring Kelly Ripa, fell off by 23% in 18-49 but remained a comfy 18-49 winner at 9 (3.6/12), and lead-out “Life With Bonnie” (2.9/9) again retained a credible 81%, placing second to CBS’ “JAG.” At 8:30, the new “Married to the Kellys” bowed with solid numbers (prelim second-place 2.9/10 in 18-49), building slightly on “George Lopez” (2.7/10), which tied for the demo lead at 8.

Fox remained fourth, led by “Wanda at Large” (2.0/7 in 18-49).

Thursday went to NBC in adults 18-49, although CBS shaved the Peacock’s advantage to 24% in 18-49 and just 1% in adults 25-54. The Eye also moved back on top in overall aud.

NBC was led by easy slot wins for both “Friends” (10.6/30 in 18-49, 22.38m) and “ER” (9.6/26), the latter of which more than doubled CBS’ “Without a Trace” (4.7/13).

New 9:30 comedy “Coupling” retained 79% of its “Will & Grace” 18-49 lead-in (6.6/16 vs. 8.4/22), slightly better than last week’s 76%. Both settled for second from 9 to 10 behind CBS drama “CSI” (9.4/24 in 18-49), which was the night’s top show in both 25-54 (12.0/27) and total viewers (26.66 million).

CBS’ “Survivor” remained a solid second from 8 to 9 (7.5/21 in 18-49, 19.68m), tying the season preem of NBC’s “Scrubs” at 8:30 in 18-49 (8.3/22) and easily winning its second half-hour in 25-54 and total viewers.

Elsewhere, the WB was up sharply week-to-week and year-to-year, highlighted by third-place finishes among women 18-34 for both “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” and “Jamie Kennedy Experiment.” And ABC, with “Extreme Makeover” (3.2/8 in 18-49) performing pretty well at 9, joined Fox and the WB in posting yearly gains.

On Saturday, ABC’s preem of toon feature “Lilo & Stitch” (prelim 2.7/9 in 18-49, 8.7m) tied with Fox’s “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” for the 18-49 lead from 8 to 10 while winning comfortably in younger demos, including a 24 share in kids 2-11.

At 10 a nightmare for Universal Television saw three of its cop dramas go head-to-head: A special repeat of NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” (2.7/9 in 18-49) led the hour by all key demo measures, with CBS’ “The District” on top in total viewers (9.9 million). Second-season preem of ABC’s “L.A. Dragnet” (1.8/6 in 18-49, 5.9m) ran second.

Baseball continues to score well, with Thursday’s Twins-Yankees game (3.0/8) up 50% in 18-49 vs. the Giants-Braves same on the same night a year ago for Fox. Through Thursday night, Fox’s Division Series coverage rates as its best since 1999.

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