24 gives Fox a happy Tuesday

A smashing season premiere heightens the competition on Tuesday nights

Fox went on a Nielsen roller coaster ride last week, after finally putting baseball behind it and launching its fall schedule.

The week started off on a very low note, with the ratings of the new Monday drama from the acclaimed David E. Kelley, Girls Club, canceled after only two outings. The show came in last out of six networks in adults 18-49 and lost more than half of fellow Kelley drama Boston Public's lead-in with a 2.1 rating/5 share in the demographic. With that kind of performance, even patience was not going to provide a solution, and the network doesn't want to damage a comparatively strong performance from Boston Public, says Preston Beckman, Fox's executive vice president of strategic program planning.

"We don't want to see the whole night start to depress," Beckman said, noting that a Kelley show leading into another Kelley show should have fared better.

But the outstanding performance of the Tuesday premiere of sophomore spy thriller 24
swept the blues away pretty quickly at Fox, with the Kiefer Sutherland vehicle winning the night in adults 18-49 with a 6.5/16. And that's not all: 24's lead-in, the second half-hour of a special That '70s Show, took second place in the demo for the night with a 6.3/15, perhaps given a boost by viewers curling up on their couches awaiting 24.

While critics and media buyers have loved 24
from the start, this was the season when the network hoped the show would catch on with viewers and become more than just a critical hit. If the show can hold its numbers, the network will have more than met its goal, analysts agree.

The surprise of the night was that, while ABC's comedies were forced into the No. 2 spot in adults 18-49 by the premiere of the Fox lineup, the show that really took a hit was NBC's Frasier, which was pushed by 24
into second in 18-49 and third in viewers (although it still won in households). The problem for NBC is that, with 24
cutting into Frasier's dominance, the rest of NBC's weak Tuesday-night lineup becomes even weaker.

is faced with the problem of ABC being successful from 8 to 9 p.m., while NBC is not successful at that time, so Frasier
has to generate almost all of its own audience," says Bill Carroll, vice president, director of programming, Katz Television Group.

On Wednesday night, another critical fave, The Bernie Mac Show, was fourth in households but second in adults 18-49, one rating point and two share points behind ABC's My Wife and Kids .
Both Cedric the Entertainer Presents
and Fastlane
are struggling a little more, but Beckman says the network is willing to let them grow. Fox also hopes patience will prove a virtue with Friday-night dramas Firefly
and John Doe .
Buyers expect Firefly
to eventually get the axe and hope a better lead-in or a different time slot will help viewers find John Doe.

Buyers also expect Fox's Sunday-night lineup to remain strong with the season premieres of The Simpsons, King of the Hill
and Malcolm in the Middle
on Sunday, Nov. 3.