'Jericho' returns to ratings battles

Times Staff Writer

Now that "Jericho" has officially returned to the CBS schedule (thanks to a passionate fan base and some uncharacteristically merciful network executives), the big question can finally be answered. How did it do in the ratings?

The answer: About the same as always.

Nobody will call CBS nuts for bringing the post-nuclear-bomb drama back, especially given a prime-time schedule devastated by the recently ended writers strike, but the jury remains out on whether the producers should get ready to use that series finale they reportedly shot to provide closure if true cancellation looms. (The series was canceled at the end of its first season last year, but network executives later changed their mind and ordered seven episodes for this season.)

According to Nielsen's fast national ratings, the season premiere Tuesday night drew 7.2 million viewers and a 2.5 rating in the key 18-to-49 demographic that most advertisers covet. That's on par with its first-season averages: 9.5 million viewers/2.8 18-to-49 rating.

"Jericho" held on to most of its lead-in, the season premiere of "Big Brother 9" (7.3 million viewers, 2.7 in 18-to-49) and grew 132% from the network's 18-to-49 ratings a week before (although that was anemic Super Tuesday news coverage). The show was flat in the 18-to-49 demo compared with what CBS drew a year ago in the time slot with a "Without a Trace" repeat.

Although "Jericho" placed third in total viewers in the 10-11 p.m. period behind ABC's "Boston Legal" and NBC's slot-leading "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" repeat, it nearly matched NBC for the lead in the 18-to-49 demo.

Now for some positive spin. The "Jericho" renewal campaign was driven by the show's loyal online fan base -- something uncommon for CBS. And whether the network liked it or not, the first several episodes of the new season have been available on the Web as unsanctioned downloads for weeks now. It's safe to say that "Jericho" fans are also savvy enough to know they can catch the show in other ways, including TiVo and CBS' own website.

The strike can also be viewed as a mixed blessing for "Jericho," providing what seemed a clear path against heavyweight scripted competition, but significantly lowering CBS' season averages and giving the network a smaller audience to promote fresh episodes to. Even Sunday's Grammys were down considerably.

But enough about ratings. Fans can preview next week's episode and catch a panel discussion with "Jericho" stars Kenneth Mitchell, Brad Beyer, Alicia Coppola, Sprague Grayden, Bob Stephenson and latest addition Esai Morales, as well as producers Carol Barbee, Karim Zreik and Don Shotz, at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention at the Shrine Auditorium. Doors open at 10 a.m. Saturday, but the "Jericho" screening starts at 1 p.m., with the panel to follow at 2.

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gberkshire@metromix.com

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Show Tracker follows the highs and lows of TV series. Find more on the Show Tracker blog at latimes.com/entertainment.

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