A Second Episode Brings 'Fringe' Benefits

Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv in
Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv in "Fringe," which attracted 46 percent more viewers on Tuesday than its premiere a week ago. (By Ben Mark Holzberg -- Fox Broadcasting Via Associated Press)
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By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, September 18, 2008

Starting at a later hour -- and with a big lead-in audience from the season debut of "House" -- J.J. Abrams's second series about the pitfalls of plane travel clocked 13.3 million viewers in its second episode, sparking "Fringe Explodes!" headlines in trade Web reports.

While that figure still doesn't match the nearly 19 million who caught the 2004 premiere episode of Abrams's first anti-air-travel drama, "Lost," there's no arguing that it's an impressive 46 percent more viewers than the 90-minute "Fringe" premiere managed to attract one week earlier. That night, the new series was forced to self-start at 8 p.m.

It's rare for the second episode of a new series to cop a bigger audience than the show's unveiling -- probably because the failure rate in the broadcast TV series business is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent. Anyway, Fox says "Fringe's" performance Tuesday marks the best Week 1 to Week 2 ratings increase for a new drama on any network in at least five years.

The "Fringe" audience and the "House" audience apparently got on like ham and eggs.

"Fringe" hung on to 93 percent of its lead-in "House" gang -- and 95 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 49, the age bracket networks bill and coo over, because advertisers pay them extra to do so.

"Fringe" actually attracted more male viewers than did "House" -- it was in fact the night's highest-rated program among men between the ages of 18 and 54.

And what a night it was. ABC's season finale of "Wipeout" did just that, suffering its smallest audience ever -- just under 6 million viewers. But that's still better than the newsmag that followed the "Wipeout" wipeout on ABC Tuesday night. A 10 p.m. "Primetime" report on UFOs drew only 5.7 million viewers, the whole ooh-scary UFO thing having been rendered totally quaint and 2007 by the Economic Collapse story.

Meanwhile, the third broadcast of CW's new "90210" -- which, yes, that network has declared a "hit" -- scored week-to-week gains among viewers of all ages, bagging 3.3 million of them. The numbers were also bigger among CW's target audience: young women. And that despite going up against season debuts of both "House" and NBC's "Biggest Loser," which attracted 8 million viewers. "BL's" ratings were up year to year, causing happy dancing in the halls of NBC.

Besides the collapse of "Wipeout," the only other cloud in the TV firmament Tuesday appears to have been, ironically, "House's" season-opening numbers. While it checked in at a healthy 14.8 million viewers, that looks kinda puny next to last year's season-opening crowd of more than 18 million, which had been that show's best number ever for an episode that did not air right after "American Idol."

* * *

HBO ordered a second season of its vampire drama "True Blood" after running just two episodes of its first season, citing an "unprecedented" 24 percent increase in the audience for Episode 2 over the debut episode numbers -- from 1.4 million to 1.8 million viewers. That first episode has gone on to log 4 million viewers and still counting, from repeat plays across multiple platforms.

Also on the plus side, it's not "John From Cincinnati."

"True Blood" is based on Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels. Alan Ball of "Six Feet Under" is exec-producing the series, which stars Anna Paquin as Sookie, a mind-reading waitress attracted to a vampire who served in the Civil War.

Everyone is "thrilled" about the pickup -- of the series, that is, not of the waitress by the vampire.

"We are absolutely thrilled that the critics and our viewers have embraced 'True Blood,' " said Michael Lombardo, head of West Coast operations at HBO.

Ball said: "I am thrilled to be able to continue to work with such a talented group of writers, cast and crew to explore the characters and world created by Charlaine Harris in her novels."

The show will go back into production early next year so the second season can kick off in the summer of '09.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company