'Lost' debut soars in ratings

ABC has not exactly been the home of popular dramas in recent years, but auds had no problem finding the net’s “Lost” on Wednesday night.

The J.J. Abrams/Damon Lindelof survival drama, which has generated the best reviews for any program this fall, opened to surprisingly socko numbers for the Alphabet, dominating its timeslot with the best young-adult rating for a drama premiere on any net (excluding spinoffs) in four years.

ABC sure could use a breakout drama success, as it hasn’t had a real hit since “The Practice.” “Lost” reps the net’s best start for a drama in 18-49 since “Once and Again” in 1999, and in total viewers since “Murder One” in 1995.

“Lost” shared center stage with a strong start for CBS drama “CSI: NY,” which prevailed over NBC’s “Law & Order” in the first matchup of the crime franchises and bested “Lost” as the night’s top-rated program overall.

“Lost” (6.8/20 in adults 18-49, 18.65 million viewers overall) took the 8 o’clock hour in every ratings category from kids to 50-plus. It showed broad appeal in key young-adult demos and among both genders.

Another positive sign was the nice growth on the half-hour, including 16% in 18-49 rating (7.3 vs. 6.3). No drama premiere on any net (excluding “CSI” spinoffs”) has opened to a higher 18-49 rating since NBC’s “Ed” in October 2000.

ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson credited an exhaustive marketing campaign for bringing viewers to the table, but declined to declare victory in the slot just yet.

“This just makes us want to work harder,” he said. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us. We’re not relieved. … The build inside the show (at 8:30) shows that viewers think it’s a good show.”

McPherson noted one of the chief early boosters of “Lost” was former ABC Television Entertainment Group chairman Lloyd Braun. Ironically, Braun ankled the net before he had the chance to enjoy the fruits of the show’s initial success.

CBS won Wednesday in 18-49 (5.5/15) and bested the competish for a third straight night to open the season in both 25-54 (6.3/15) and total viewers (15.1 million), according to Nielsen.

First Wednesday of the season also saw CBS grab good numbers for a “Dr. Phil” spec, the WB hold its own with “Smallville” and a pair of reality franchises — ABC’s “The Bachelor” and UPN’s “America’s Next Top Model” — get off to modest starts opposite tough competish.

“CSI: NY” (7.1/19 in 18-49, 19.26m) got the best of NBC’s “Law & Order” (5.5/14, 15.39m). It’s second to NBC’s “Joey” among fall preems in 18-49 and first in both adults 25-54 (8.4/20) and total viewers.

Compared to the opening Wednesday last year, “Law” was down by 28% while “CSI: NY” nearly tripled the bow of feeble CBS drama “The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.” (2.4/6).

“CSI: NY” was the night’s No. 1 program in 18-49, 25-54 and total viewers, but it fell shy of the premiere scores of “CSI: Miami” on a Monday two years ago (8.6/21 in 18-49, 23.10m).

Still, for the time period and opposite such established competish, this is an excellent start for the second spinoff of the scorching-hot “CSI” franchise. CBS hasn’t done this well in the hour with regular programming since the conclusion of mini “The Last Don” in May 1997 — and knocking down “Law & Order” a peg or two is key in the net’s attempt to dethrone NBC for the season’s coveted 18-49 crown.

“It’s a good start,” said CBS senior exec VP Kelly Kahl. “I don’t think anybody walks in with the expectation of beating a show like ‘Law & Order’ in a time period it’s owned for 15 years. Our expectations were to be competitive and improve the time period, and that’s what we did.”

Leading into “CSI: NY” was a good showing by two-hour spec “Dr. Phil: Family First” (4.7/13 in 18-49, 13.08m), which placed second and grew with each half-hour. It held its own at 9 opposite the first of two segs of “Law & Order” (6.4/16 in 18-49, 18.86m), this one introducing the detective played by Dennis Farina.

At ABC, “The Bachelor” (3.7/10 in 18-49, 8.19m) opened with tame third-place scores for its two-hour premiere. It can hope that some of the large femme aud watching atypical programming on both CBS and NBC chooses the unscripted dating show next week.

The WB did well at 8 with the season preem of “Smallville” (3.0/9 in 18-49, 6.07m), which was on par with last year’s preem despite opposing “Lost” and placed No. 2 in adults 18-34 (3.7/12). Lead-out drama “The Mountain” (1.7/4 in 18-49, 3.89m) did OK in its bow, nabbing 6 and 7 shares in key femme demos.

UPN certainly improved upon its Wednesday averages of last season but did only so-so with the third edition of its top-rated skein, “America’s Next Top Model” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 3.62m). It fared best in women 18-34 (3.6/11).

And at 9, a preview of the well-reviewed “Veronica Mars” (1.0/3 in 18-49, 2.49m) didn’t generate much interest. Show moves to Tuesday at 9 next week.

Fox had a weak night, placing a distant fourth in 18-49, led by “That ’70s Show” (2.7/8).

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report).

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