Skeins in the 9 o'clock hour see growth

HOLLYWOOD — UPN’s “Veronica Mars” and NBC’s “The Office” haven’t been ratings juggernauts in their first seasons, but they do have one thing going for them: a fertile timeslot.

Perhaps it’s because there hasn’t been a dominant show in the hour in recent years, or that the conclusion of megahit “American Idol” frees up a lot of viewers with their fingers on the remote control, but Tuesday’s 9 o’clock hour has been a great spot to nurture a show.

While “Veronica Mars” and “The Office” have seen only minor growth, Fox’s “House” has taken up residence as the top draw in Tuesday’s middle hour. It joins a list of shows that have bucked conventional trends and grown their audience from their premiere — in some cases, substantially.

“House” opened to a modest 2.7 rating among adults 18-49 with its premiere in November, according to Nielsen, and stayed about there until January when “American Idol” became its lead-in. It bowed behind “Idol” with a 5.0 rating, rose to a 5.9 in early February, then a 6.4 and a 6.8 in early March before it hit 7.2 in late March.

Last year, it was the WB’s “One Tree Hill” that opened weakly in the hour (0.8 rating), but it grew to a 1.1 in its second week, then a 1.4, a 1.5 and eventually a 2.0 in April. Similarly, “America’s Next Top Model” opened with a 1.5 in May 2003, built to a 1.7 two weeks later and ended its first season with a 2.3.

Also blossoming this year has been CBS’ “Amazing Race,” which had been in the mid-4 range but has recently topped a 5 rating.

As for this year’s hopefuls, NBC’s “The Office” built in its second week (2.7 vs. 2.9) but then slipped to a 2.4. Still, it has retained virtually all of its lead-in from “Scrubs” and has good buzz, making it a strong contender to return in the fall.

It’s good buzz — and certainly not ratings — that saved “Veronica Mars.” UPN has picked up the skein for a second season, despite rarely topping a 1 rating.

Maybe all it needs is a little more time in the same slot.

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