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‘Family’ value pays off for Fox

Nets off to sweep start

Fox couldn’t have drawn it up any better: Net’s night of animated laffers, led by the return of “Family Guy,” produced robust ratings Sunday even opposite gaudier numbers for ABC’s powerful lineup.

First Sunday of the May sweep turned out to be a great night for ABC and Fox all around, while CBS did solid Nielsens for its movie “Riding the Bus With My Sister.”

According to preliminary nationals from Nielsen, ABC rolled to victory in all the significant broad measures, dominating among women. But Fox, which has slumped badly on Sundays of late, was a solid second among adults 18-49 in all six of its half-hours and won the night in key male demos.

ABC and Fox were especially strong among the youngest of adults: The Alphabet logged its best Sunday 18-34 average with an entertainment lineup in 5½ years (6.6/19), and Fox its strongest in more than 13 months (5.6/16), according to Nielsen.

For the Alphabet, “Desperate Housewives” (roughly 11.5 rating/25 share in adults 18-49, 26.2 million viewers overall) logged its second-best 18-49 result to date, and “Grey’s Anatomy” (roughly 8.4/20 in 18-49, 18.1 million) hit yet more series highs. ABC hasn’t done better Sunday at 10 since an episode of “The Practice” in February 2001.

‘Extreme’ result

The Alphabet also won from 7 to 9 with a special two-hour “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (4.8/14 in 18-49, 12.4 million), although it seemed to be impacted some by Fox’s full hour of “The Simpsons.”

The veteran laffer celebrated its 350th episode by posting strong second place numbers (prelim 5.4/14 in 18-49, 11.1 million viewers for the hour), its best regular averages since November.

Biggest story of the night, though, was the successful relaunch of “Family Guy” at 9 (prelim 5.7/13 in 18-49, 11.7 million), as the back-from-the-dead toon more than doubled Fox’s average in the slot this season. Most impressively, it built on its “Simpsons” lead-in by 20% among adults 18-34 (7.9 vs. 6.6).

New Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Ligouri said he was encouraged by the net’s ability to compete against a powerhouse like “Desperate Housewives,” which is now the nation’s most-watched scripted series among young adults.

“It seems like the audience just expanded (Sunday night),” Ligouri said. “It was outstanding counterprogramming.”

Ligouri credited various News Corp. marketing and PR arms, along with “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, for building interest in the show’s return.

“Seth did a yeoman’s job — he did everything humanly possible to promote the show,” Ligouri said. News Corp.’s TV studio and homevideo units partnered with Fox Broadcasting to hype the skein, even putting on a live- stage version of “Family Guy” in Gotham and Los Angeles.

Fox-y ‘Guy’

Relaunch of “Family Guy” is so important to Fox — sister studio 20th Century Fox Television produces it — that the net has allocated three additional firstrun episodes of “The Simpsons” to air in the 8:30 slot leading into “Family Guy” during the first three weeks of sweeps. This means that six of the vet toon’s 22 episodes this season will have aired in a three-week stretch.

Another MacFarlane animated skein, “American Dad,” bowed with solid numbers as well at 9:30 (prelim 4.6/10 in 18-49, 9.5 million). “Dad,” which MacFarlane created with Michael Barker and Matt Weitzman and which had aired a sneak preview following Fox’s airing of the Super Bowl in early February, logged the net’s best regular 18-34 scores in the 9:30 slot in more than two years (6.5/15).

“King of the Hill” (2.7/9 in 18-49, 5.7 million) and “Malcolm in the Middle” (3.3/10, 6.7 million), Fox’s only live-action entry on the night, also were on the high end for Fox.

Elsewhere, despite facing ABC’s femme-friendly dramas, CBS did above-average movie numbers with its Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of “Riding the Bus With My Sister” starring Rosie O’Donnell and Andie MacDowell (3.5/8, 15 million).

NBC dramas “Law & Order: CI” (3.4/7 in 18-49, 11.3 million) and “Crossing Jordan” (3.4/8 in 18-49, 11.1 million) were below average.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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