- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

NEW YORK
Just a few days into the fall TV season, hits and misses already are emerging. With 25 of the networks' 34 new series on the air, ABC desperate to rebuild is still on shaky ground.
"It's a two-network race between CBS and NBC," says Marc Berman, an analyst for Mediaweek Online.
That theory seemed borne out by last Thursday's clash of titans: According to Nielsen Media Research, CBS' "Survivor: Thailand" was a solid runner-up to NBC's "Friends"-and-"Scrubs" combo; "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" beat "Will & Grace" and "Good Morning Miami"; and the crime drama "Without a Trace" premiered with about two-thirds the audience of "ER," somewhat narrowing that show's usually huge lead.
Bottom line: NBC carried the night with a huge 25 percent share of the viewing audience but was followed closely by CBS with 21 percent.
ABC, Fox, UPN and the WB were also-rans.
In the midst of the night's carnage was "Push, Nevada," ABC's innovative new whodunit, which in its first airing against full-blown fall competition had a tiny 5 percent audience share in its 9 p.m. berth.
As of Thursday, ABC had introduced four of its seven fall shows, with its brightest new performer being "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," a sitcom starring John Ritter.
Despite losing one-fourth of the audience from its Sept. 17 premiere, "8 Rules" in its second airing was beaten in households only by the veteran CBS drama "JAG." It bested the debut of "The In-Laws," a sitcom that NBC hoped would establish a beachhead Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
If "8 Rules" maintains that level, "I think ABC would be pleased," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of Horizon Media. "But will it? Or will it continue to drop?"
ABC, whose collapse in the overall ratings was one of last season's big stories, may still be on the slide.
"Many people thought ABC hit rock bottom last year," Mr. Berman says, "but I think it's going to hit rock bottom this year. They've got too many holes in the schedule to fill."
Steve Sternberg is not so sure. A media analyst with Magna Global USA, he is withholding judgment until the end of "Monday Night Football," which, he notes, has drawn more viewers than last year.
Can ABC maintain that audience with its post-football Monday programming?
If so, and if the new Bonnie Hunt sitcom "Life With Bonnie" holds its own against "Frasier" at 9 p.m. Tuesday, "then ABC might be in pretty good shape going into next season," Mr. Sternberg says.
Besides the respectable debut of "Without a Trace," CBS enjoyed a red-hot reception Monday for its "CSI" spinoff "CSI: Miami," the most-watched September drama debut since "ER" in 1994.
Also Monday, a strong second showing by "Everwood" suggests this family drama may be the WB's long-sought companion to "Seventh Heaven."
Monday's premiere of the UPN comedy "Half and Half" retained the audience for its lead-in, "Girlfriends," which is always a good sign. But the same network's new occult-crime drama, "Haunted," seemed exactly that on Tuesday, drawing a paltry 3 percent share of the audience.
NBC's new comedy "Hidden Hills," following Tuesday's much-promoted season premiere of "Frasier," got the expected heavy sampling, as did "Good Morning Miami" in its plum spot after "Will & Grace" Thursday.
On Wednesday, Fox's variety half-hour "Cedric the Entertainer Presents" had a healthy second airing, as did its high-rev action show "Fastlane."
Against the second hour of NBC's "The West Wing" season premiere Wednesday, two new hospital shows were bloodied: ABC's "MDs" took third place in the time slot with a meager 8 percent share of audience, while CBS' "Presidio Med" was in second place with a 10 percent share and lost 30 percent of its audience from a special "preview" the night before.
This week, both contenders faced continued tough competition with the season premiere of NBC's "Law & Order" at 10 p.m. last night.
The rationale for scheduling dueling doctor dramas had industry analysts scratching their heads.
ABC and CBS "are just splitting a very limited audience," says Mr. Sternberg, who sees the prospects for both shows as dim. "One will be canceled, and even then, the other won't improve."

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