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ABC catches dance fever

Nets do a jig over hot starts

Viewers again gravitated to high-profile summer premieres on the broadcast nets Wednesday night, as both ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and the WB’s “Beauty and the Geek” looked good in the Nielsens.

Some have criticized the broadcast nets for loading up on unscripted skeins this summer, but the first three out of the gate — all original concepts — have kept auds indoors, at least at the outset.

Two nights after Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” opened to promising scores (Daily Variety, June 1), the Alphabet’s “Dancing With the Stars” — based on the BBC format “Strictly Come Dancing” — was Wednesday’s highest-rated program and delivered some of the best reality summer premiere scores in years.

And over at the Frog, which has been looking for its signature reality show, the Ashton Kutcher-produced “Beauty and the Geek” — from Katalyst and 3 Ball — ran second for its hour in the net’s target demos.

According to Nielsen, “Dancing” kicked up its heels with a strong 4.3 rating/12 share in adults 18-49 and 13.48 million viewers overall — topping the 9 o’clock hour, which featured repeats on four of the other five broadcast nets.

This is the best start in 18-49 for an unscripted series in the summer since NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” in June 2003. And in total viewers, where “Dancing” was boosted by a hefty tune-in in viewers 50 and over, it’s the largest aud to watch a summer reality preem since “Survivor” on CBS five years ago.

ABC alternative exec VP Andrea Wong declined to label “Dancing” a hit just yet, since the show has only aired once. Still, given how different the skein is from most of primetime, she was encouraged by the strong start.

“I was a nervous wreck yesterday,” Wong admitted. “This was a left turn and a big risk. It’s just an odd, different show.”

As a result, Wong said she’s just happy that “people responded and seemed to like it.” She also credited execs at BBC Worldwide with keeping the pressure on her, since Wong concedes she was initially cool on the concept.

ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson said he thought “Dancing” worked because it’s “just a very fun show.”

“At first people might dismiss it,” he acknowledged. “Even my wife was incredibly cynical about it (before watching), but she couldn’t take her eyes off it. It’s a good story for us as we go into the summer.”

“Dancing,” which pairs a celebrity with a professional dance partner as they train and then compete in a dance competition, performed well across a host of demos. It earned a 5.1/13 in adults 25-54 and a 3.7/11 in adults 18-34, with women making up more than 70% of its audience.

ABC will rebroadcast the first “Dancing” episode Sunday at 7.

Success of both “Dancing” and “Hell’s Kitchen” makes it a good week for Brit imports. Granada’s U.S. arm produces the latter skein (along with A. Smith & Co.)

Another Granada America skein, NBC’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” bowed Thursday night on NBC and also seems to have the potential to break out with its retro-kitschy appeal.

For the WB, “Beauty and the Geek” opened well in the 8 o’clock hour (1.6/5 in 18-49, 3.17m), placing second in 18-34 (2.2/8) and earning its best score in women 18-34 (2.7/9). In a good sign, show grew sharply on the half-hour, too.

“Beauty” far outrated the WB’s two reality show debuts during the 2004-05 season, with its 2.2 rating in adults 18-34 nearly tripling the debut of “The Starlet” from March (0.8) and well above that of “Big Man on Campus” last December (1.3). It also bested the net’s two drama bows: “The Mountain” (2.1) and “Jack & Bobby” (1.9).

“Beauty,” a social experiment of sorts, pairs bimbos and dorks who look to learn from each other to win a cash prize. Net rebroadcast the premiere seg last night.

Also Wednesday, NBC did pretty well with its two-hour “Eagles Farewell Tour” (3.1/9 in 18-49, 8.41m). It outperformed the net’s May sweep perfs in the 8-10 time period, winning in men 25-54 (3.9/11).

ABC, which also was solid with repeats of “Supernanny” at 8 and “Lost” at 10, captured its first summer Wednesday in 18-49 (without sports help) since August 2001.

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