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TV executives are optimistic despite spotty early ratings

Times Staff Writer

With the first official week of the fall season under their belts, television network executives are keeping their fingers away from the panic button so far, despite the less-than-certain showings of some new offerings.

Even as ABC’s “Threat Matrix,” Fox’s “Luis” and NBC’s “Whoopi” struggle in total viewership and NBC’s “Miss Match” and “Coupling” have fallen short of expectations, several executives said there are no true immediate disasters among the new crop.

Adding to the cautious optimism: Such returning series as “The West Wing,” “ER,” “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” “JAG,” “Survivor” and “My Wife and Kids” have started the season with strong performances.

Each of the big three networks had something to crow about. CBS said it was pleased with the strong debuts of many of its new dramas. NBC boasted that the network remains dominant in its target audience of 18-to-49-year-olds, the demographic desired most by advertisers. ABC maintained it is the only major network with significant ratings growth from last year. Most of Fox’s new shows won’t be unveiled until after the baseball playoffs in October.

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Final Nielsen Media ratings for the first week of the season -- Sept. 22 through last Sunday -- which were released Tuesday, show that the only new series to make the top 10 in terms of viewership was CBS’ comedy “Two and a Half Men” starring Charlie Sheen.

“We’re thrilled overall with the first week,” said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker, adding his prediction that the networks would finish roughly the same as last year, with NBC tops in the 18-to-49 demographic and CBS No. 1 in total viewers.

ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne said, “We’re feeling good, and we remain cautiously optimistic. We have many more weeks to go, and some of our shows are in very tough time periods.”

Other new shows that opened well, besides CBS’ “Two and a Half Men,” were that network’s “Cold Case,” “The Handler,” “Joan of Arcadia” and “Navy NCIS”; and ABC’s “Hope & Faith” and “I’m With Her.”

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Zucker said he was pleased with the performance of the new Thursday comedy “Coupling,” calling it the top-rated new comedy in the 18-to-49 demographic.

But others, particularly outside of NBC, were quick to jump on its performance, noting the comedy attracted only 15.2 million, down significantly from the “Will & Grace” lead-in with 20.2 viewers. “ER,” which followed “Coupling, scored more than 23.2 million viewers.

“They have to be devastated with those results,” said an executive at a rival network, who asked not to be identified.

New series that have more of a question mark on their unveiling include NBC’s “Miss Match,” which was trounced by its main competition, “Joan of Arcadia,” last Friday; “Whoopi” and “Happy Family” and ABC’s “10-8.” Shows that appear to be in more trouble include Fox’s “Luis” and ABC’s “Threat Matrix,” but network executives said there are no immediate plans to bench those series.

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Although outsiders often focus on the raw numbers for series, success and failure of particular shows often depends as much on the network’s expectations and the show’s performance with particular target audiences. ABC executives note “Threat Matrix” is in one of prime time’s toughest time slots on Thursdays at 8 p.m., battling against CBS’ “Survivor: Pearl Islands” and NBC’s “Friends.” “We would love to see higher numbers, but it’s doing about what we expected,” Lyne said. “It’s the toughest time period to put a new show, and as long as it’s working creatively for us, and it continues to grow in its second half hour, we’ll be pleased.”

One of CBS’ underachievers appears to be “The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire,” the latest effort by David E. Kelley, the creator of “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal.” The drama, which debuted last Wednesday at 10 p.m. against the juggernaut of NBC’s “Law & Order,” attracted little more than 8 million viewers.

But CBS’ top research executive, David Poltrack, was upbeat about the future of “Brotherhood,” saying the debut was hurt by the two-hour installment of a new edition of “The Bachelor” as well as a lack of compatibility with its lead-in, the finale of “Big Brother 4.”

“There really wasn’t much of a fit between ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Brotherhood,’ ” he said, adding that the comedy lead-in of “King of Queens” and “Becker” in coming weeks will be more of a match. “We feel we will get some significant resampling, because they are both vehicles that appeal to 35-plus and older audiences. This is a show that we have modest expectations for, and it needs some patience.”

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UPN executives said they were pleased with their new comedies, particularly “Eve” and “All of Us,” while the WB’s programming chief Jordan Levin expressed confidence in the network’s Friday night slate that includes “All About the Andersons” and “Like Family.” Those shows, Levin said, appeal to younger audiences.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Here are the rankings for national prime-time network television last week (Sept. 22-28) as compiled by Nielsen Media Research. They are based on the average number of people who watched a program from start to finish. Nielsen estimates there are 272.04 million potential viewers in the U.S. age 2 and older. Viewership is listed in millions.

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*--* 1 CSI CBS 26.91 2 Friends NBC 24.54 3 ER NBC 23.22 4 Law & Order NBC 20.86 5 Everybody Loves Raymond CBS 20.63

6 Will & Grace NBC 20.29 7 Survivor: Pearl Islands CBS 19.86 8 Two and a Half Men CBS 18.44 9 The West Wing NBC 18.32 10 CSI: Miami CBS 17.40

11 Monday Night Football ABC 17.30 12 8 Simple Rules ABC 16.97 13 Without a Trace CBS 16.68 14 Cold Case CBS 15.85 15 Law & Order: Criminal Intent NBC 15.84

16 “Twelve Mile Road” CBS 15.80 17 Coupling NBC 15.30 18 Frasier NBC 14.50 19 60 Minutes CBS 14.03 20 NFL Monday Showcase ABC 13.92

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21 Fear Factor NBC 13.77 22 JAG CBS 13.76 23 My Wife & Kids CBS 13.61 24 Joan of Arcadia CBS 13.47 25 Law & Order: SVU NBC 13.23

26 I’m With Her ABC 13.19 27 Navy NCIS CBS 13.03 28 Still Standing CBS 12.66 29 The Handler CBS 12.60 30 The Bachelor ABC 12.55

31 The Lyon’s Den NBC 12.35 32 Las Vegas NBC 12.28 33 According to Jim ABC 11.98 34 Judging Amy CBS 11.85 35 The District CBS 11.82

36 Hope & Faith ABC 11.79 37 The Guardian CBS 11.75 38 Yes, Dear CBS 11.51 39 Big Brother 4 CBS 10.73 40 Ed NBC 10.72

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41 60 Minutes II CBS 10.63 42 NYPD Blue ABC 10.24 43 20/20 ABC 10.23 44 The Practice ABC 10.16 45 NFL Sunday Post-Game FOX 10.11

46 Life With Bonnie ABC 9.83 47 Alias ABC 9.73 48 American Dreams NBC 9.60 49 Hack CBS 9.31 50 Happy Family NBC 9.24

“Remember the Titans” ABC 9.24 52 10-8 ABC 9.11 53 George Lopez ABC 9.03 54 Less Than Perfect ABC 8.90 55 Whoopi NBC 8.77

56 7th Heaven WB 8.69 57 Dateline NBC (Fri.) NBC 8.58 58 Dateline NBC (Sun.) NBC 8.52 59 48 Hours Investigates CBS 8.22 60 Brotherhood of Poland CBS 8.05

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61 Boomtown NBC 7.77 America’s Funniest Home Videos ABC 7.77 63 Miss Match NBC 7.66 64 Paradise Hotel (9 p.m.) FOX 7.59 65 Primetime Thursday ABC 7.33

66 America’s Most Wanted FOX 7.30 67 Cops (8:30 p.m.) FOX 7.26 68 Extreme Makeover (Thu.) ABC 7.04 “There’s Something About Mary” FOX 7.04 70 Threat Matrix ABC 6.66

71 Performing As ... (Finale) FOX 6.61 72 Everwood WB 6.38 73 Cops FOX 6.28 74 Charmed WB 6.26 75 Primetime Monday ABC 6.10

76 Paradise Hotel (8 p.m.) FOX 6.04 77 “Jerry Maguire” NBC 5.17 78 Boston Public FOX 5.08 79 Girlfriends UPN 5.01 80 Eve UPN 4.90

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81 Half and Half UPN 4.79 82 WWE Smackdown! UPN 4.60 83 Gilmore Girls WB 4.53 84 All of Us UPN 4.42 85 Wanda at Large FOX 4.36

86 “Fox News Interview: President Bush” FOX 4.30 87 The Parkers UPN 4.07 88 Reba WB 4.01 89 Enterprise UPN 4.00 90 Temptation Island 3 FOX 3.55

91 Performing As ... (Mon.) FOX 3.42 92 One on One UPN 3.31 93 Luis FOX 3.30 94 Grounded for Life WB 3.26 95 Like Family WB 3.16

96 Steve Harvey’s Big Time WB 3.09 97 All About Andersons WB 2.90 98 Jake 2.0 (Wed.) UPN 2.67 99 Jamie Kennedy WB 2.54 100 Rock Me Baby UPN 2.51

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101 One Tree Hill (Tue.) WB 2.48 102 “Hilary Duff Birthday Special” (Wed.) WB 2.28 103 One Tree Hill (Wed.) WB 2.04 104 The Mullets (Tue., 9:30 p.m.) UPN 1.97 105 What I Like About You WB 1.88

106 “Hilary Duff Birthday Special” (Sun.) WB 1.81 107 Run of the House WB 1.72 108 The Mullets (Fri., 8 p.m.) UPN 1.41

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*--* Network averages Here is the number of viewers (in millions) that each network averaged per hour of prime time, for last week and for the season. Network Last week Season to date CBS 14.00 14.00

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NBC 12.57 12.57

ABC 10.59 10.59

FOX 5.97 5.97

WB 4.00 4.00

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UPN 3.41 3.41

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