An ‘Amish’ mission

UPN reality show witnesses strong preem

“Amish in the City,” UPN’s controversial “Real World”-meets-“Witness” reality series, opened to impressive ratings Wednesday night.

Skein, whose initial pitch drew outrage from some members of Congress, placed second to Fox’s offerings in young-adult demos with back-to-back hourlong episodes. Curious viewers apparently liked what they saw too, as ratings peaked in the final half-hour.

In another bit of good news for UPN, the net’s affil in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country — which preempted Wednesday’s premiere — is now giving the show a thumbs up.

According to Nielsen, “Amish in the City,” from New Line Television and Stick Figure Prods., averaged 5.38 million viewers from 8 to 10 and a 2.5 rating/8 share in adults 18-49 and a 2.3/7 in adults 18-34. In various categories, this is three and four times what UPN has averaged in the timeslot since May, and it’s the net’s best Wednesday delivery in more than 2½ years.

From 8 to 9, “Amish” easily topped the season finale of NBC’s unscripted series “Next Action Star” in both 18-49 (2.4/8 vs. 1.3/4) and 18-34 (2.2/8 vs. 0.9/3). And by its final half-hour at 9:30, “Amish” placed first in women 18-34 (3.1/9) and adults 18-34 (2.7/8, tied with Fox’s “Method and Red”).

UPN Entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff said the strong ratings are “particularly satisfying for us because it was so controversial. Not only did critics feel the show was respectful, but viewers seemed to like it as well.”

Strong debut was also good news for New Line TV senior VP Jon Kroll: Skein reps the first effort from the company since studio topper Jim Rosenthal tapped Kroll to take day-to-day oversight of the company.

“It’s a show that we felt would, if it found an audience, continue to grow, and that’s what happened (Wednesday night),” Kroll said.

UPN is rebroadcasting the first two hours of “Amish” tonight. Show will regularly air Wednesdays at 8.

WLYH, the UPN affil in Harrisburg, Pa., had opted not to air Wednesday’s bow. UPN wasn’t sending out screeners, and station management didn’t want to air such a potentially explosive skein sight unseen.

Instead, on Thursday, WLYH general manager Matt Uhl screened “Amish” with five reporters, two professors from local universities and two ad sales reps. A positive reaction from the informal panel prompted Uhl to put “Amish” on the air, starting with tonight’s encore.

“We were all in agreement that it was tastefully done,” Uhl said. “I thought the Amish came off well … I have no problem with it.”

Surprisingly mute on the subject: Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), who’s been an outspoken critic of “Amish” from the time it was announced in January. Pitts was traveling Thursday, according to his press secretary, Derek Karchner, who said the congressman would likely watch a videotape of the show soon.

Karchner didn’t think Pitts would have much to say about the show even after viewing it. “The quality of the show was always besides the point,” the rep said.

Wednesday’s debut of “Amish” was notably light on paid advertisements, indicating UPN may have encountered some resistance from advertisers aware of the controversy.

“This is not unusual for many reality series,” Ostroff said, noting advertisers who had seen the show liked it. “They wanted to see how it was received by critics and viewers first.”

Despite the “Amish” perf on UPN, Fox won Wednesday in 18-49, making it three straight nightly victories.

On the cable side, FX’s “Rescue Me” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 3.11m) declined a modest 10% in adults 18-49 from its strong week-earlier preem. Opposite political coverage on the broadcast nets, it emerged the leader at 10 in 18-49.

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