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ABC’s healthy debut

'Anatomy' prognosis good after strong bow

With a nice assist from “Desperate Housewives,” ABC launched medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” to strong ratings Sunday, while CBS continued to hoop it up with big numbers for the men’s college basketball tourney.

Airing behind megahit “Housewives,” which was back with an original episode for the first time in five weeks, “Grey’s Anatomy” scrubbed in with ABC’s best ratings in the Sunday-at-10 hour in 3½ years. It also did a much better job of holding onto its lead-in than “Boston Legal.”

Strong opening means ABC has aired three of the season’s four highest-rated drama series premieres in adults 18-49: “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Lost.” The fourth, CBS’ “CSI: NY,” ran ahead of “Lost.”

According to preliminary nationals from Nielsen, Touchstone Television’s “Grey’s Anatomy” averaged a 7.2 rating/18 share in adults 18-49 and 16.3 million viewers overall — topping NBC and CBS in the hour combined. The Alphabet hasn’t done better Sunday at 10 with a regular series since an episode of “The Practice” in 2001.

“Grey’s” dropped off some in its second half-hour (6.8 rating vs. 7.5 in 18-49), but that’s not surprising for a 10 o’clock show airing behind a huge hit like “Desperate Housewives” (prelim 10.7/24 in 18-49, 24 million viewers overall).

“Grey’s” delivered much the same audience as its lead-in, holding roughly two-thirds of the “Housewives” aud in both men and women in the 18-49, 25-54 and 18-34 demos. By comparison, the premiere of regular slot occupant “Boston Legal” last fall retained 54% of its “Housewives” 18-49 lead-in (4.8 vs. 8.9) and has hovered around the 50% mark in recent outings after an original “Housewives” seg.

Future weeks will tell if viewers liked enough of what they saw to return to “Grey’s,” but ABC likely would consider it a success if the show holds a steady 60% of its “Housewives” lead-in.

For its part, “Housewives” didn’t miss a beat in its first original episode since Feb. 20, besting the other four broadcast nets combined in 18-49 during the 9 o’clock hour.

Earlier Sunday evening (5-8:15 p.m. ET), CBS Sports averaged a big 10.8 household rating/22 share in Nielsen’s metered-market overnights for Michigan State’s double-overtime college hoops victory over Kentucky — the highest rating in this game window since a 12.4/28 in 1990 for UNLV-Loyola Marymount.

Through Sunday, the Eye was averaging a 6.7 overnight rating for its basketball coverage, up 14% vs. last year’s 5.9 for the best score at this point since 1993 (7.0 rating). Last Saturday’s Illinois-Arizona thriller contributed nicely with a 9.1 rating/16 share.

Action resumes Saturday night with a pair of semifinal games on CBS, with the national championship contest set for Monday.

Over on USA, the Friday premiere of Ving Rhames as “Kojak” averaged 4.52 million viewers (including 1.49 million in adults 18-49). Bow topped 25-54 rankings for the night on cable and placed second in 18-49 to an episode of “Battlestar Galactica” on Sci Fi Channel.

Numbers in USA’s key 25-54 demo were strong — up 21% in the timeslot vs. the net’s average this quarter — but total viewership falls short of USA’s top debuts, “The Dead Zone” and “Monk.” “Kojak” moves to its regular Sundays-at-10 slot this week.

(Denise Martin contributed to this report.)

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