'Criminal Minds' spinoff debuts well in ratings

Beau Garrett, Michael Kelly, Janeane Garofalo, Forest Whitaker and Matt Ryan star in "Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior."
Beau Garrett, Michael Kelly, Janeane Garofalo, Forest Whitaker and Matt Ryan star in "Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior." (Abc Studios)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011; 10:35 PM

Once again demonstrating that a show's best lead-in is another episode of the same show - or the mothership show from which it was spun off - CBS's unveiling of "Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior" handily won its 10 p.m. time slot Wednesday by attracting 13 million viewers.

"Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior" - and can we all agree that's the worst show name . . . ever? - built on its "Criminal Minds" lead-in crowd of 12.8 million.

"Criminal Minds: SB" made succotash of ABC's doctors-in-bikinis, amortizing-"Lost"-set-costs drama "Off the Map" (4.3 million viewers) and NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (7.3 million). "Off the Map" was down more than 23 percent and "SVU" 8 percent compared with the previous Wednesday, when they aired against the less competitive "Blue Bloods" on CBS.

"CM:SB" delivered CBS's biggest audience in that hour time slot among viewers of all ages since February 2010. That also holds true among those viewers ages 18 to 49 - the brass ring for broadcasters.

That's not great news for the Jim Belushi lawyerly drama "The Defenders," which got assigned to the time slot last fall.

But the night's big news was the first-ever battle between "American Idol's" dreaded Hollywood-in-Pasadena Week on Fox and a "Survivor" season debut on CBS.

"Survivor: Redemption Island" came out of the fight most bloodied - down to 11.2 million viewers, which is the franchise's smallest opening audience, and about 3 million people shy of last spring's unveiling. "Idol," meanwhile, took a 1.3 million hit week to week, attracting nearly 23 million people.

Against the second hour of the two-hour "Idol," the second episode of ABC's new Matthew Perry comedy, "Mr. Sunshine," attracted 7 million viewers - 33 percent less than the premiere the previous week, which did not run up against Fox's singing competition.

A shot across the Cowell

"American Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe got on the phone Thursday afternoon with The Reporters Who Cover Television to chat about this and that. In the course of the call, he suggested that Simon Cowell - who left "Idol" at the end of last season to launch his like-minded "The X Factor" on Fox in the fall - might be out of step with the times.

"When we brought ['Idol'] to America, we said Simon had a role to play of Honest Judge," Lythgoe told the reporters, who were liking this story a lot.

"We said he's going to be tough and honest. . . . He might cross the line - not as far as Ricky Gervais - but he might cross the line."

Lythgoe's Gervais reference was to the most recent Golden Globes show, in which Gervais approached his hosting duties like a cook throwing handfuls of salt on a plate full of snails and then watching them shrivel up and die.

"Simon made a star of himself around the world," Lythgoe continued merrily. "Nobody is able to do it with the honesty Simon has done. . . . He became the benchmark."

But now, what America needs isn't honesty - it's warmth, Lythgoe insisted.

"We need to know the positions we find ourselves in, we are going to get ourselves out of at some point. . . . We need to think we have a future," he said, "and if we can translate that. Kids coming on to the show, going from flipping burgers one day to star of a television series - showing everybody we have a way out of our lives at this time.

"Now is the time to have that warmth."

Watson and 'Jeopardy!'

About 9 percent of the country's homes tuned in Wednesday night to see Watson the IBM computer's triumph over "Jeopardy!" super-geeks Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Watson won the three-episode competition Wednesday after wagering $17,973 that "Who is Bram Stoker?" was the correct question to the clue: "William Wilkinson's 'An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia' inspired this author's most famous novel."

But the second night of the three-episode man-vs.-machine February sweep stunt on the syndicated game show scored the biggest crowd - 9.5 percent of the country's TV homes. That's the show's biggest audience since the May 25, 2005, final episode of the "Ultimate Tournament of Champions," which, by the way, also featured Jennings and Rutter.

That second night was maybe Watson's most dramatic, when, in the final moments, the computer speculated that the U.S. city with a large airport named for a World War II hero and another, less large airport named for a World War II battle was . . . Toronto. It had wagered only $947 on his answer. The two humans correctly answered "Chicago" and had bet big. But they were still hopelessly behind Watson.

Final numbers for Watson's three-episode television debut won't be available for several more days. But it's unlikely that Watson is going to break the "Jeopardy!" recent ratings record of more than 22 million viewers, which was set in January 1994.

For comparison's sake, the last episode of Jennings's streak - he holds the show's record for winning the most consecutive games, 74 - in Nov. 30, 2004, attracted nearly 18 million people. That episode had scored 13 percent of TV homes, according to the early numbers for it.

In trouncing Jennings and Rutter, Watson won the $1 million prize, which IBM is donating to the charities World Vision and World Community Grid.

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