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'Raising the Bar' and Clearing It in the Ratings

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Steven Bochco set a new record Monday when his premiering TNT lawyer drama, "Raising the Bar," clocked 7.7 million viewers. It was the biggest audience ever for a new-series launch on an ad-supported cable network.

Bochco's show, co-starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and his hair, beat the record set in 2004 by USA's launch of "The 4400." That show opened with an average of 7.4 million tuned in; runner-up was TNT's "The Closer," which clocked 7 million viewers when it was unveiled in '05.

Bochco also got to thumb his nose at broadcasters: "Bar" trounced everything served up Monday across prime time by ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox or CW -- except NBC's "Deal or No Deal," and the network had to give away a million bucks to get 11 million viewers to watch that episode.

Among the shows attracting far smaller crowds than "Bar" was the highly hyped return of Fox's "Prison Break," which logged an average 6.5 million viewers. Also, the hysterically hyped second-season debut of CW's "Gossip Girl," which paled in comparison when 3.4 million tuned in.

"Bar" attracted its average 7.7 million viewers in the 10 p.m. hour. At that time, the broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC, that is (Fox and CW don't program that hour) -- thought they were going to be covering the Republican National Convention but wound up covering mostly Hurricane Gustav. ABC logged 3.2 million viewers, CBS 4.1 million and NBC 5.5 million.

"It's a huge benefit for us to be working for a network that not only believes in what we do individually but what we do generally," Bochco told The TV Column yesterday.

"They support us and trust us to do what we do. It's a real throwback that reminds me of the way it used to be when I used to work with Brandon [Tartikoff] at NBC. . . . You just don't find that kind of environment anymore in the broadcast [TV network] world," he said.

The 3.4 million crowd for "Gossip Girl" was 100,000 fewer than had watched the show's unveiling last fall. CW noted it managed that number "despite premiering during the Labor Day holiday," which, let's see, is . . . nope, not my problem and, yup, CW's scheduling choice. (And the same night, "Raising the Bar" managed to break a cable ratings record.)

But "GG" logged series-best numbers among several age brackets important to its sales department, CW noted, including 18-to-34-year-old women and 18-to-49-year-olds. Actually, what CW said was: " 'MINDBLOWINGLY' IMPRESSIVE PREMIERE OF 'GOSSIP GIRL' DELIVERS SERIES HIGHS IN KEY DEMOS."

In most of those age brackets, "GG" was up one-tenth of a ratings point compared with last year's series debut.

Interesting to note: Just days earlier, ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" clocked 3.7 million viewers. It scored a bigger crowd than did the "Gossip Girl" debut, mostly by attracting more than twice as many teenagers. Among adults ages 18-49, 25-54 and 50 and older, "GG" actually got slightly bigger ratings than had the most recent "Secret Life."

In fairness, last year "Gossip Girl" debuted after an original episode of "Top Model," which had served up a lead-in audience of 5.2 million viewers. This time, "GG" had to self-start because, CW pointed out, it aired at 8 p.m., and on Labor Day -- to recap, not my problem and CW's decision.

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