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ABC's New Commandment: Honor Thy 'Housewives'

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page C07

On Easter, ABC forsook "The Ten Commandments" in favor of the hedonistic women of Wisteria Lane.

Grievously, this move paid off in spades.

"Desperate Housewives" drew 24 million viewers on Easter, far more than past audiences for "The Ten Commandments." (ABC via Reuters)

"Desperate Housewives," which had been off the air for an interminable five weeks, returned in a blaze of glory that night, as more than 24 million faithful looked on.

In fact, more than twice as many viewers chose to spend the night with "Housewives" as with CBS's traditional Easter Sunday treacly flick -- this year, the weepy "Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas."

Sadly, "The Ten Commandments," an ABC Palm Sunday/Easter Sunday staple, hasn't copped 24 million viewers in at least 13 years and possibly longer. ABC's records on the number of viewers watching the broadcast networks go back only to 1992, when the Cecil B. De Mille flick drew 22.6 million viewers.

Last year, "T10C" averaged 10.2 million on Palm Sunday, a terrific number for a movie made 49 years ago -- which, coincidentally, is the age of the oldest viewers that ABC targets. Maybe that's why the network dissed the flick this year.

After more than two decades of airing the classic during the Easter season, with an occasional year off to "rest," ABC this year ignominiously bumped it to Saturday, March 19, where the film suffered its smallest TV audience on record -- fewer than 7 million viewers.

But, instead of being visited by a plague of locusts for this blasphemy, ABC met with gigantic ratings on Easter night.

Among the 18- to 49-year-olds ABC goes for, "Desperate Housewives" beat the combined network competition -- that would be CBS, NBC, Fox and WB. In fact, "Desperate Housewives" was the most watched program in the country on Easter.

Following "Housewives," ABC debuted its chicks-as-hot-interns drama, "Grey's Anatomy," and again -- no locusts.

Instead, the unveiling of the hot-docs-in-training series trumped its closest competitor, NBC's hot-chick-medical-examiner drama, "Crossing Jordan," to the tune of more than 5 million viewers.

Among those viewers in the 18-to-number-of-years-ago-"Ten-Commandments"-was-made category, "Grey's Anatomy" is the second-best drama series debut on any network this season -- behind only the fall launch of "Desperate Housewives."

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