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Football roughs up TV rivals

Times Staff Writer

Network executives had high hopes for the start of the TV season Monday night, but then some football players came along and spoiled everything.

A rare doubleheader on ABC’s “Monday Night Football” tamped down ratings at rival networks, which unleashed five new series, including NBC’s heavily promoted sci-fi caper “Surface,” CBS’ critically acclaimed sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and Fox’s not-so-acclaimed comedy “Kitchen Confidential.” Even popular returning shows suffered sharp drops in ratings, including one in which the lead actress had just won an Emmy award.

The worst news came at the ratings-challenged WB Network. “Just Legal,” a drama from producer Jerry Bruckheimer starring Don Johnson, delivered catastrophically low numbers (3.4 million viewers, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research). “Just Legal” delivered just half the young-adult audience that the WB’s drama “Everwood” did in the slot last year.

“We expect growth next week after a night that was extremely tough for everyone, given the unusual nature of two [Monday] football games,” a WB spokesman said in a statement. (The network is partly owned by Tribune Co., which publishes the Los Angeles Times.)

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Analysts cautioned that it was too early to draw any sweeping conclusions from Monday’s results. ABC was the night’s most-watched network, thanks to the unusual programming gambit featuring major-market NFL teams.

One game was a classic grudge match between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys (16.1 million viewers). The other saw America’s new favorite team, the hurricane-displaced New Orleans Saints, squaring off against the New York Giants (13.6 million viewers).

The Saints game started at 4:30 p.m. PDT, then switched over to ESPN at 6 p.m. to make way for the Cowboys and Redskins.

“It’s an unusual scenario,” said John Rash, director of broadcast negotiations at Minneapolis ad firm Campbell Mithun. Sports viewing nearly always leaps in markets that have a home team playing.

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Still, the gloomy Monday numbers didn’t inspire much confidence about the fall season, which is just getting under way.

“Surface” (11.2 million) was down 11% among young adults compared with last year’s “Fear Factor.” But the sci-fi drama added viewers as it progressed and did somewhat better than NBC officials expected.

“Kitchen Confidential” (4.3 million) suffered a weak lead-in from “Arrested Development” (4.6 million), which is still unable to attract audiences despite its critical appeal. CBS’ “Mother” (10.9 million) did a bit better than its lead-in, “The King of Queens” (10.7 million), but the network is already feeling the absence of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which ended its nine-year run in May and picked up the best comedy series Emmy on Sunday.

Perhaps most ominously, popular returning series failed to spark much interest. NBC’s drama “Medium” (12.7 million) sunk to its lowest rating yet for a first-run episode. The drop-off was especially surprising given that the star, Patricia Arquette, won a best dramatic actress Emmy for her performance in the series.

CBS’ Season 4 premiere of “CSI: Miami” was the night’s most-watched program, with 19.2 million viewers. But the show slid 17% in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic compared with its premiere last season.

“It’s tough to make any conclusions after one night,” CBS spokesman Chris Ender said, especially since football “significantly disrupted normal viewing patterns.”


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