Soph duo show that crime pays

'Miami,' 'Trace' among scripted fare showing spunk

It’s been a good year for the Eye net’s freshman drama class, but its sophomore skeins aren’t faring too badly either.

One of the best indicators of a “hit” program or one with significant potential in syndication is ratings growth in a second season. It’s common these days for hot reality series — including “American Idol” and “Survivor” — to reach their peak in seasons two and three, but it’s refreshing to see that scripted fare too can blossom after its initial year.

This season, CBS’ Jerry Bruckheimer-produced crime pair of “CSI: Miami” on Monday and “Without a Trace” on Thursday are up slightly vs. last year in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen, joined on the sophomore growth list by only one other skein, ABC laffer “Less Than Perfect.”

For CBS, “Trace” and “Miami” have helped strengthen the net in the key hour leading into late local news.

“CSI: Miami’s” growth (6.2 vs. 6.1 last year in 18-49) is impressive since the first spinoff of megahit “CSI” bowed to huge ratings and fanfare in the fall of 2002. The David Caruso-led drama, though, has now rallied ahead of last year’s pace, enjoying a ratings surge since NBC shifted from drama (“Third Watch”) to reality (“Average Joe”) in the Monday-at-10 hour.

Missing-persons drama “Without a Trace” is an even better story for CBS, as its 6% sophomore ascension (5.5 vs. 5.2 in 18-49) comes despite a 5% falloff for its Thursday lead-in, “CSI.”

“Trace” continues to chip away at NBC’s still-strong hospital drama “ER” and heads into the season’s homestretch, tied with NBC’s “Law & Order” as TV’s No. 4 drama in 18-49 — behind “CSI” (9.3), “ER” (8.7) and “CSI: Miami” (6.2).

For ABC, “Less Than Perfect” has been a quietly solid performer in another downer of a season, up a tick year-to-year in 18-49 (3.7 vs. 3.6). The workplace laffer has retained more than 85% of its lead-in from the net’s No. 1 comedy, “According to Jim.”

Also holding up in their second seasons are UPN’s Monday comedy “Half and Half” (flat year-to-year) and ABC’s Tuesday laffer “8 Simple Rules” (down 7%), which is proceeding without original series star John Ritter.

Of course, there are also a number of second-year series on the decline, which notably include Fox’s “24” (down 23%), the WB’s “Everwood” (down 21%) and NBC’s “American Dreams” (down 16%). Of the three, only the dropoff for “Dreams” can be attributed to stronger timeslot competish — in this case from rookie CBS crime drama “Cold Case.”

Each of these skeins is admired by critics and still has enough of a fan base to warrant a third — and likely make-or-break — season.

Thriving in their third seasons this year are Fox’s music talent show “American Idol” (up 12%), NBC’s third-year reality skein “Fear Factor” (up 3%) and NBC’s crime drama “Crossing Jordan” (up 15% after moving to a more hospitable Sunday-at-10 slot).

On the downward slope in season three are ABC’s “Alias” (off 15%) and the WB’s “Smallville” (off 36%, in part because of a sked switch).

And among vets that have seen better days — and appear to have one more season left — are NBC’s “West Wing” (off 19% this year), ABC’s “NYPD Blue” (down 18%), Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” (down 21%) and CBS’ “Judging Amy” (down 29%). (“Blue” and “Amy” are victims of tough competish on Tuesdays this season from NBC’s relocated “Law & Order: SVU.”)

And although there are now fathers and sons who’ve grown up watching Fox’s “The Simpsons,” this Energizer bunny of primetime is finally showing its age, down 20% in its 15th season.

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