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ABC Starts 'Dancing' And the Competition Reels

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A big return for "Dancing With the Stars" catapulted ABC to No. 1 the week before the official start of the TV season. It was the network's first win since it broadcast the Super Bowl in January. But with a lineup jammed with reality series coming and going, CBS took the trophy among the 18- to 49-year-olds advertisers lust after.

Here's a look at the week's thriving and dying:

WINNERS

"Dancing With the Stars." More than 20 million braved Tucker Carlson doing the cha-cha-cha, making the dance competition's third-season debut last week's most watched program. That's nearly 3 million viewers better than the second-season debut and nearly 7 million better than the first-season opener. That's also very good news for ABC, which plans to use "Dance" to launch several shows over the next few weeks (see "Men in Trees" below).

"Men in Trees." The "Dancing" debut drove nearly 12 million unsuspecting viewers to ABC's scary new universe in which Anne Heche is a relationship expert. Only 8.5 million got away; the other 11.7 million got sucked into the vortex, making "Men in Trees" the most watched show at 10 p.m. Tuesday. It drew nearly a third more viewers than its closest competitor, which, granted, was a rerun of "Law & Order: SVU." By Friday another 3.6 million viewers had been rescued by loved ones, leaving slightly more than 8 million viewers orbiting "Men in Trees" when it made its Friday time-slot debut. That still made it Friday night's most watched program.

Katie Couric . Couric clung to her tiara in her second week as anchor of the "CBS Evening News," averaging 50,000 viewers more than NBC's Brian Williams and nearly 400,000 more than ABC's Charlie Gibson.

Crocodile Hunter exhumation . Animal Planet's marathon of shows starring its dead Crock Hunter, Steve Irwin, logged 927,000 viewers in prime time Sunday -- 37 percent better than the network's year-to-date Sunday prime-time average. Crikey!

"Path to 9/11." Sure it had no advertisers, which had to have cost ABC gobs of money. But you can't put a price tag on the delivery of more than 10 million viewers -- about twice ABC's summer Monday audience -- to those with whom a network wants to curry political favor.

LOSERS

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." The debut of NBC's much-ballyhooed Aaron Sorkin series copped 13.4 million viewers this past Monday, taking a big bite out of CBS's "CSI: Miami" season debut. At 17.4 million, it was the second smallest debut audience ever for "CSI: Miami," and 2 million below last season's debut. But that's not what everyone was talking about yesterday. They were talking about the 2.5 million-viewer plunge from the first half-hour of "Studio 60" to the second -- the kiss of death for a new one-hour series. In this case, the drop probably had something to do with the utterly incompatible lead-in audience that NBC gave it -- fans of the babes-and-briefcases series "Deal or No Deal." For trivia's sake, the very first episode of Sorkin's "The West Wing" averaged 16.9 million viewers on Sept. 22, 1999.

"Survivor: Cook Island." CBS suits brought a great deal of controversy on themselves when they turned one of broadcast TV's whitest reality shows into one of the most ethnically diverse so that they could then segregate the players based on their ethnic background. This appears to have cost them some advertisers, which is not unusual for a controversial bit of programming. The upside of all this is supposed to be lots more viewers -- and Thursday's debut logged the second smallest opening audience ever for "Survivor," behind only the first-season starter. CBS noted it was the week's second most watched show among 18- to 49-year-olds; it forgot to mention it was the lowest-rated "Survivor" debut ever among 18- to 34-year-olds, who are the Holy Grail of reality TV.

"Lucky Louie." Turns out, HBO can do a three-camera sitcom just as badly as any broadcast network. Only raunchier. Which doesn't appear to attract more viewers. And so, after "Louie" premiered in June with an average of 1.5 million watching the first play of the episode, and regularly sloughed off about 1 million "Entourage" viewers over the course of its first-season order, HBO threw in the towel.

The week's 10 most watched programs, in order, were: ABC's season debut of "Dancing With the Stars"; NBC's "Sunday Night Football"; CBS's season debut of "Survivor: Cook Island"; ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" results show; CBS's "CSI" rerun; Fox's "House"; CBS's "CSI" 10 p.m. Thursday and "60 Minutes"; and ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Men in Trees" premiere.

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