HOLLYWOOD — NBC’s “The West Wing” broke through in a big way Wednesday, with its two-hour season premiere crushing the series’ best ratings of a year ago.
Net also received solid debut numbers for first-year soap “Titans” in delivering its best demo score on a Wednesday with regularly scheduled series in nearly eight years.
According to Nielsen, the first Wednesday of the season also saw a solid second-place finish for the Country Music Assn. Awards on CBS, another lackluster demo perf from ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” on its new night, and very strong premiere numbers for the final season of UPN’s “Star Trek Voyager.”
Wednesday figures to be a key night in NBC’s attempt to reclaim the seasonal crown from ABC in adults 18-49. And while the results on the first Wednesday are atypical — given, among other things, a baseball playoff game on Fox and the CMAs on CBS — the Peacock is off to a good start.
“West Wing” figured to be primed for a big bow and it didn’t disappoint.
The White House drama last month became one of the biggest winners in Emmy history; it was heavily promoted during the net’s 17-day coverage of the Olympics; it aired less than one month before a presidential election; and it also featured a cliff-hanger storyline from May that left viewers asking, “Who was hit?”
All these factors came together in powering the series to its best numbers ever in viewers (25.05 million), adults 18-49 (9.4/23), adults 25-54 (12.0/26) and all other key demos. “Wing” topped its series highs of a year ago by 54% in adults 18-49 and by 48% in viewers.
Show seemed to take on a younger skew as it progressed, growing from its first half-hour to its last by 16% in adults 18-49 (9.9 from 8.5) while building by a lesser 4% in viewers (25.12m vs. 24.07m).
The 18-49 score tops every episode of “Law & Order” last season, all but one hour of both “Ally McBeal” and “The X-Files” and all but two segs of “The Practice.”
“West Wing” dominated among the nation’s top 10 markets, posting its best marks in Boston (24.4/36) and, not surprisingly, Washington, D.C. (22.9/34). In New York, “Wing” (21.4/30) easily topped a first-round baseball playoff game involving the Yankees (14.0/20).
The Aaron Spelling/NBC Studios soap “Titans” got hump night off to a good start for NBC. It soared by 37% over the opening-week timeslot perf of “Dateline” last season in adults 18-49 (4.8/13 vs. 3.5/11) although the shows drew about the same number of viewers (11.6 million).
Compared with Spelling’s “Beverly Hills, 90210,” which aired in the slot on Fox a year ago, “Titans” was up by 7% in adults 18-49 (4.8 vs. 4.5).
Opposite “Titans,” meanwhile, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (5.2/14 in A18-49) fell 9% behind what comedies “Two Guys and a Girl” and “Norm” averaged in the slot a year ago (5.7/17). In terms of viewers, though, the quizzer (19.02m) bested last year’s comedies (11.30m) by 68%.
“Millionaire” won the 8 p.m. hour in men 18-49 (4.6/13), “Titans” in women 18-49 (6.2/16) and the “CMAs” in adults 18-49 (5.6/16).
In a slump
While “Millionaire” could rebound once the heavily promoted season premieres on competing nets are over, it is clearly not the consistently dominant demo force it was a year ago.
“Millionaire” placed second in adults 18-49 on both Tuesday and Wednesday of this week after easily winning 31 of the 32 hours it aired on those nights last season (losing only on a Wednesday opposite the Grammys in February).
Tune-in for “Titans,” of course, also was likely boosted by lead-out “West Wing” — as incompatible as the pair may seem.
For the night, NBC’s 7.8/20 in adults 18-49 was its best with series on a Wednesday since Nov. 4, 1992 (“Unsolved Mysteries,” “Seinfeld,” “Mad About You” and “Law & Order”).
ABC’s “Millionaire” helped lead-out “Drew Carey” attract its largest audience for a season premiere (13.61 million) in four years. “Drew” won its half-hour in men 18-34 (5.5/16) and held strong in adults 18-49 — down a tick from last year (6.5/15 vs. 6.6/17).
It was also the net’s largest Wednesday premiere aud (13.48m) in four years.
Auds not in tune
The CMAs on CBS won the 8 p.m. hour in key demos but finished with an all-time low in homes (10.9/17), down vs. last year by 11% in viewers (16.63m vs. 18.80m) and by 6% in adults 18-49 (6.3/16 vs. 6.7/18).
UPN’s “Star Trek Voyager” topped its year-ago premiere ratings by 15% in viewers (7.10m vs. 6.20m) and by a strong 34% in adults 18-49 (3.9/9 vs. 2.9/8), while posting its best men 18-49 rating (4.8/12) in three years. In its second half-hour, “Voyager” (6.4/14) was second only to “West Wing” (9.0/19) in men 35-49.
The WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” maintained its premiere-week rating from a year ago among adults 18-49 (2.5/7) despite dropping by 17% in viewers (4.98m vs. 6.00m). Series, which was the focal point of the netlet’s promotional push during the summer, had its best women 18-34 rating (5.4/15) in two years.
That led into “Felicity,” which held a so-so 66% of its “Dawson’s” lead-in among adults 18-34 (2.5 vs. 3.8) but did post its best numbers for a Wednesday episode in all female demos.
High-profile Wednesday series yet to premiere include “Bette” on CBS, “Gideon’s Crossing” on ABC and “The Street” on Fox.