Turns out TV comedy isn't dead after all. You just gotta give viewers one they want to watch--like Fox's new "Malcolm in the Middle," which snagged a gang of 22.4 million on Sunday.

ABC, however, won the first week of 2000, pumped up on the Sugar Bowl and yet another triumphant return of the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Here's a look at the week's geniuses and dunces:


"Malcolm in the Middle." No Fox show has debuted to as big an audience since "The Simpsons" a decade ago. The "Malcolm" debut was Fox's most watched regular program in the Sunday 8:30 p.m. half-hour in about eight years. Among young viewers, it was the week's No. 2-ranked program, behind only "ER."

"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" returned with more than 28 million viewers on Sunday at 9 p.m.--ABC's biggest haul in the time slot since Oct. 13, 1993, when it broadcast the ratings magnet "Pretty Woman."

"Veronica's Closet." With heavy heart we report that last week's "Veronica's Closet," moved to Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m., was the show's most watched episode since last May, and it held on to 90 percent of its lead-in, "Will & Grace."

"Law and Order: SVU." NBC was right to bank on "SVU" attracting "Homicide" fans Fridays at 10 p.m. Moved to the time slot last week, "SVU" was NBC's best regular-series performer there since "Homicide" in November '97.

"Greed." Fox's game show had its official Friday 9 p.m. time slot debut and was greeted by about 12 million fans--the net's best performance there with a regularly scheduled series since the '97 season debut of "Millennium."


"Twenty One." NBC's new game show ranked No. 4 in its time slot among adults 18-49, which is the only game NBC says it plays. And if NBC tells you that "Twenty One" scored the net's biggest audience since last Feb. 28--which was when it broadcast the movie "Alice in Wonderland"--you just spit in their eye and tell them that "Alice" had twice as many young viewers as the game show.

"People's Choice." The 26th annual broadcast of this trophy show plunged 27 percent compared with its 25th, which is probably just fine with CBS, since it turned out to be a two-hour plug for archenemy NBC, what with "Stark Raving Mad" named best new sitcom, "ER" named best drama series, "Providence" named best new drama and "Friends" the fave comedy series. The made-for-TV trophy show averaged 15.4 million viewers; last year's haul was 19.6 million and CBS's average in the same time slot so far this season is 17 million.

"Winning Lines." The debut of CBS's Dick Clark-hosted show landed at the bottom of the game show heap last week with an audience of 10 million to rank No. 57 for the week. "Millionaire" was No. 2, "Twenty One" was No. 17 and "Greed" ranked 36th.

"Jack & Jill." A Monday tryout of WB's Sunday drama was rejected by 77 percent of loyal "7th Heaven" fans, sending WB to its smallest Monday audience this season.

The week's 10 most watched programs, in order, were: NBC's "ER"; ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and Sugar Bowl broadcast; NBC's "Frasier"; Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle"; NBC's "Friends"; CBS's "60 Minutes"; ABC's "The Practice"; CBS's "Touched by an Angel"; and NBC's "Stark Raving Mad."

CAPTION: "Malcolm in the Middle" was No. 2 among young viewers for the week.