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Tuesday is Alphabet’s for ‘Once’

Drama bows to record rating

NBC’s “Will & Grace” won the battle of the Tuesday sitcoms, but ABC won the war for control of the night thanks to a stellar bow from rookie drama “Once and Again.”

Alphabet’s most high-profile frosh skein was nothing less than stunning in its debut, attracting the highest adults 18-49 rating for any premiering drama on any net in four years.

But the competition has reason to crow as well. NBC’s 8-9:30 p.m. comedies started out solidly better than the ABC competition, with “Will & Grace” thrashing ABC’s veteran “Dharma & Greg” in the 9 p.m. title bout. “Dharma” performed admirably considering its relatively weak lead-in, but couldn’t make up enough of the difference to catch “Will.”

Peacock’s crowing was tempered, however, by the crash of ”The Mike O’Malley Show” at 9:30. One needn’t prepare a 17-page memo to figure out that NBC has an immediate problem in the slot.

Eyeing ‘Amy’

CBS, meanwhile, got a strong season premiere from ”JAG” and a promising time-period debut for ”Judging Amy” vs. the big ”Once and Again” numbers. Fox remained missing in action, mired in fourth place among both viewers and adults 18-49 with a pair of reality specials.

The WB’s ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and ”Mission Hill” stumbled, and UPN was not competitive with reruns.

ABC’s ”Once and Again” dominated the 10-11 p.m. hour with 16.77 million viewers and a 7.8 rating, 21 share among adults 18-49. The last net drama to premiere with higher 18-49 results was ABC’s ”Murder One” (9.8/27, Sept. 19, 1995).

”Once” also more than doubled last year’s week-two preview of ”Vengeance Unlimited” in the slot (7.8 vs. 3.6) and even beat last year’s delayed season premiere — in week five — of ”NYPD Blue” by 8% (7.8 vs. 7.2).

If ”Once” keeps turning in these kind of numbers, ABC will be hard-pressed to stick with its current plan to yank ”Once” from the slot to make room for ”NYPD Blue” in November.

Not laughing

The biggest disappointment Tuesday was NBC’s ”Mike O’Malley” (10.38 million viewers, 5.5/14 in adults 18-49) , which retained a lousy 63% of its 18-49 lead-in from ”Will & Grace” (16.09 million viewers, 8.7/22 in adults 18-49). “Will” set the bar high, however, snagging its best-ever non-Thursday results.

Those ”O’Malley” numbers put the rookie sitcom in immediate trouble. Its 63% 18-49 retention doesn’t even approach the 116% NBC has averaged in the slot over the previous five weeks with a second ”Will” seg.

Even with those woes, NBC’s 8-10 p.m. comedies outscored their ABC rivals. The Peacock’s most pleasant surprise came at 8:30 with ”3rd Rock From the Sun” (14.95 million viewers, 7.2/20 in adults 18-49), which built by a hot 22% over its 18-49 lead-in from ”Just Shoot Me” (12.60 million viewers, 5.9/18 in adults 18-49, down 11% from year-ago 18-49 slot results with ”Mad About You”).

ABC will miss ”Home Improvement” on Tuesdays. In its season premiere, ”Spin City” (11.89 million viewers, 5.3/16 in adults 18-49) trailed ”Home’s” year-ago 18-49 slot results by 24%. Then ABC faded from there at 8:30 with ”It’s Like, You Know … ” (10.41 million, 5.0/14 in adults 18-49).

‘Dharma’ deficit

That gave ABC a 4.5 million-viewer deficit heading into the big 9 p.m. showdown between NBC’s ”Will & Grace” and ABC’s ”Dharma & Greg” (14.64 million, 6.8/18 in adults 18-49), a competition that ”Will” won by about 1.5 million viewers.

ABC shored up its night with a 9:30 ”Dharma” rerun (16.54 million, 8.0/20 in adults 18-49), which probably led many more viewers into the 10 p.m. premiere of ”Once and Again” than would have been the case with slot regular ”Sports Night.” Latter skein returns in October.

That extra ”Dharma” also kept ABC ahead of CBS for the night in total viewers. ”JAG” (15.81 million, 4.2/12 in adults 18-49) won the 8-9 p.m. hour by that measure, and the slot debut of ”Judging Amy” (13.50 million, 4.1/11 in adults 18-49) was a solid second at 10-11 p.m.

Both shows remained third in adults 18-49, down from year-ago levels.

It was a rough night for the WB, with ”Buffy” (5.08 million viewers, 2.1/6 in adults 18-49) dropping 38% in adults 18-49 vs. last year’s season premiere in week two. Then at 9 p.m., a preview of the animated ”Mission Hill” (2.28 million, 0.8/2 in adults 18-49) retained less than half its ”Buffy” lead-in and sank to WB’s worst numbers in the timeslot since New Year’s Eve 1996. The WB still more than doubled the night’s rerun results on UPN.

Fox’s best Tuesday shot came at 9 p.m. with ”When Good Times Go Bad 3” (7.74 million viewers, 4.3/11 in adults 18-49).