The broadcast networks finally got it right--by accident. They had frantically chased shows about teens for their fall schedule, but it was new series starring actors old enough to run for president that got viewers jazzed during the first week of the 1999-2000 TV season. In fact, more viewers checked out the broadcast networks during Premiere Week '99 than in '98--especially impressive given that Fox punted, premiering almost none of its series.
Here's a look at Week No. 1's winners and losers:
"Saturday Night Live--The 25th Anniversary." The late-night show's prime-time special scored 22 million viewers, handing NBC a rare Sunday night win and, with it, the 1999-2000 season Premiere Week victory.
"Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." A premiere audience of 14.1 million viewers made it NBC's most watched Monday fall series kickoff since 1990.
"Once and Again." Hooray for forty-something Sela Ward, who put all those anorexic Gen-Y starlets to shame last week, scoring 16.8 million viewers and the biggest 18-49 age group rating for any drama series debut on any network in four years.
"Will & Grace." Viewers took only a year to locate this NBC sitcom. Its second-season debut, Tuesday at 9 p.m., beat the kharma out of "Dharma & Greg"--the first time NBC has bested ABC in that time slot during Premiere Week since 1985 (except when NBC aired the Olympics in '88, which doesn't count).
"Family Law." Major chick drama scored CBS's biggest audience in the Monday 10 p.m. time slot in two years.
"West Wing." The White House drama welcomed NBC's largest audience in the 9-10 p.m. hour during a premiere week Wednesday since 1992.
"Law & Order." The show that keeps reinventing itself began its 10th season with 18.6 million viewers--its biggest debut audience since it was unveiled on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 1990.
Hugh Downs. About 14.2 million viewers tuned in to Friday's "20/20" to say so long to the broadcast news veteran--more viewers than for any other program in its Friday 10 p.m. time slot last week.
"The Practice." Two weeks after picking up its second Emmy for best drama series, the David E. Kelley show debuted with its biggest audience ever--17.7 million viewers.
"Safe Harbor." Cloning is off to a bad start on WB; its "7th Heaven" companion show lost about a third of "7th Heaven's" audience Monday night.
ABC's Tuesday comedies. The battle of the debuting Tuesday sitcoms went to NBC, with the network's "Just Shoot Me," "3rd Rock From the Sun" and "Will & Grace" vanquishing ABC's "Spin City," "It's Like, You Know . . ." and "Dharma & Greg." ABC's only Tuesday comedy win was its 9:30 p.m. "Dharma" rerun, which trounced NBC's new "The Mike O'Malley Show."
"Mission Hill." WB's least watched original program in the Tuesday 9 p.m. half-hour--ever. So, a geeky animated show isn't really compatible with "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer." Go figure.
"The Drew Carey Show." The ABC sitcom drew its smallest debut audience in its five-year history.
"Chicago Hope." Completely overhauled by creator David E. Kelley and given a new Thursday time slot, the CBS drama turned in its smallest debut audience ever.
"Jesse" and "Stark Raving Mad." On NBC's cushy Thursday night schedule, "Jesse" hung on to just 77 percent of its "Friends" lead-in; "Stark Raving Mad" kept just 74 percent of "Frasier's" lead-in audience. Anything under 80 percent is supposed to get a show canceled--unless the show is from the people who created "Friends" (that would be "Jesse.")
The week's 10 most-watched programs, in order, were: NBC's "Friends," "Frasier" and "Saturday Night Live--The 25th Anniversary"; ABC's "Monday Night Football"; NBC's "Jesse" and Thursday broadcast of "Third Watch"; CBS's "Country Music Awards"; NBC's "Law & Order" and "Stark Raving Mad"; and CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond."