Football lead-in pumps Fox series to record

Despite brutal competish from ABC’s powerhouse combo of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Desperate Housewives,” the two-hour premiere of Fox’s “24” launched to strong ratings Sunday.

Boosted by a high-rated NFL playoff game in the preceding hour, the fourth-season bow of “24” drew the show’s largest aud to date from 8 to 9 (15.5 million viewers) and established series records in male demos, according to preliminary nationals from Nielsen.

Thriller’s perf is a hopeful sign for Fox, which is looking to recover from a weak fourth quarter and has again allocated much of its key programming resources for the second half of the season.

“24” averaged a prelim 6.3 rating/14 share in adults 18-49 from 8 to 9 and then a 5.9/12 and 14.3 million viewers overall in its second hour — placing second to ABC.

It gave Fox its best series ratings in the Sunday-at-8 hour in nearly two years (“The Simpsons”) and improved upon last season’s premiere by 25% in adults 18-49. Show aired another two hours Monday night, where it will regularly air from 9 to 10.

The NFL lead-in was certainly an advantage, but impressively, most of the aud that started with “24” at 8 was there to the finish.

Also contributing to the show’s performance: Sunday was the first time this season that football fans who were barraged with “24” promos during the day didn’t have a primetime game on ESPN to flock to — freeing them up for the broadcast nets.

ABC also saw a surge on the night, with 8 o’clock dynamo “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (prelim 8.6/19 in 18-49, 20.0 million viewers overall) hitting series highs and delivering the best demo ratings for any unscripted skein this season.

That led into the second-best numbers yet for the Alphabet’s “Desperate Housewives” (prelim 11.2/32 in 18-49, 25.2 million), which didn’t seem fazed by the additional one-time-only competish from “24.” NBC’s own drama in the hour, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (prelim 4.0/8 in 18-49, 13.3 million), was on the low end of its range and placed third.

At 10, ABC’s “Boston Legal” (prelim 5.6/13 in 18-49, 14.6 million) retained just half its “Housewives” 18-49 lead-in but won the hour in demos and drew its largest overall aud to date. NBC’s “Crossing Jordan” (5.0/12 in 18-49, 15.3 million) nearly caught “Boston” in demos and won in total viewers with its largest overall aud since April 2002.

CBS was solid at 8 with “Cold Case” (prelim 3.8/9 in 18-49, 15.6 million). But from 9 to 11, “The People’s Choice Awards” (prelim 3.3/7 in 18-49, 9.9 million) had its worst showing since at least 1992 — down 20% from last year in 18-49 (4.1/10).

Fox edged out ABC for the nightly honors as the final 40 minutes of its Minnesota Vikings-Green Bay Packers contest and a 20-minute postgame show dominated from 7 to 8 p.m. ET (prelim 10.0/26 in 18-49, 24.5 million).

Reliable nationals for the weekend’s National Football League action won’t be available until later this week, but the league’s broadcast partners all had reason to cheer Nielsen’s metered-market overnight ratings.

According to these local estimates (which exclude Indianapolis due to weather-related processing delays), the weekend’s four NFL wildcard games averaged a 17.9 household rating/32 share, up a bit over last year’s 17.5/31.

Highest-rated game was the Vikings’ 31-17 victory over the Packers Sunday on Fox (21.3/36 from 4:40 to 7:40 p.m. ET), which did a 75 share in Minneapolis and a 67 share in Milwaukee. Earlier game (1-4:15 p.m. ET), a rout for the Indianapolis Colts over the Denver Broncos, averaged a 17.6/35 (excluding Indianapolis).

ABC did well Saturday with its pair of nailbiter games: a 15.9/29 in the locals for St. Louis Rams-Seattle Seahawks and a 16.9/28 for the New York Jets-San Diego Chargers contest.

Action continues Saturday with the Jets-Pittsburgh Steelers game on CBS (4:30 p.m. ET) followed by the Rams-Atlanta Falcons game on Fox (8 p.m. ET). On Sunday, the Vikings visit the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. ET on Fox, followed by the marquee Colts-New England Patriots matchup at 4:30 p.m. on CBS.

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