The regular season doesn't officially start until Sept. 17, but Wednesday night might as well have been it with all of the premieres at the Big Three networks. CBS and NBC went head to head with their reality shows, producing strong ratings for both networks, while ABC's 20/20 interview with Anne Heche turned out to be the most watched show of the night.
The season premiere of 20/20, featuring Barbara Walter's exclusive interview with Heche, attracted 13.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research national figures. The 20/20 premiere also averaged a 5.1 rating/14 in adults 18-49, the 10 p.m. ET/PT time period's best rating since last November.
As for the reality wars at NBC and CBS, where both networks attempted to take down the other's new program, it turned out to be something of a tie. CBS' special Big Brother episode at 8 p.m. ET/PT took down the debut of NBC's Lost in households (6.9/12 vs. 6.1/10), total viewers (11.0 million vs. 9.4 million) and in adults 18-49 (4.7/14 vs. 4.1/12).
At 9 p.m., NBC's special edition of Fear Factor topped CBS' debut of new series The Amazing Race in households (7.5/12 vs. 7.4/12) and in adults 18-49 (5.5/14 vs. 5.0/13). But in total viewers, Amazing Race barely came out on top, with an 11.83 million average vs. Fear Factor's 11.81 million.
"It turned out to be pretty much a draw," says NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker. "The truth is Lost took a body blow from Big Brother and The Amazing Race took a body blow from Fear Factor and we both came out standing."
Said CBS' Executive Vice President of program planning and scheduling Kelly Kahl, "This was clearly an abnormal night in terms of network scheduling, but even given that and the Howitzer that they brought out in Fear Factor, the fact that we could walk away with a tie and be extremely competitive demo-wise is a great sign."
- Joe Schlosser