Early Returns

This fall, CSI sizzles, Hawaii tumbles and Lost grabs men

It was high noon at 10 p.m. After one volley, the third CSI
felled the original Law & Order. In fall's most anticipated broadcast match-up, CBS's premiere of CSI: NY
grabbed a larger audience than NBC's Law & Order
Sept. 22. And CSI
killed in all key demos. But the night's biggest surprise belonged to ABC: An amazing number of viewers discovered Lost.

The CSI: NY-Law & Order
showdown wasn't as tight as industry watchers expected. CSI: NY
drew 19.3 million viewers and delivered a 7.1 rating in the 18-49 group and an 8.4 rating for 25-54, according to Nielsen data. Law & Order
attracted 15.5 million viewers and a 5.5 rating in NBC's key 18-49 demo. "Plenty of people have asked how much CSI
is too much. Clearly, not too much at this point," says Kelly Kahl, CBS's executive vice president of program planning and scheduling.

To NBC's credit, Law & Order
actually premiered this season in a special 9 p.m. slot, which nabbed 18.9 million viewers and a 6.4 rating in 18-49, NBC's highest non-Olympics rating in the demo in two years.

Earlier that night, ABC's heavily promoted thriller drama Lost
notched superb marks: 18.6 million viewers and a 6.8 rating in adults 18-49. Even better was Lost's strong delivery of men. "Outside of Monday Night Football
, ABC doesn't have any powerful shows that attract males," says Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming at Carat USA. "Now, they can use football's huge promotional platform for Lost."

But Lost
still needs to prove its long-term viability.

"The key is maintaining the audience. A lot of times, new shows get heavily sampled," says Horizon Media research chief Brad Adgate. That applies to much-hyped CSI: NY,
too. "Next week will go a long way to determining which of these shows [CSI: NY
or Law & Order] will win the hour for the season," adds Magna Global Executive Vice President of Audience Analysis Steve Sternberg.

Of course, it wasn't all kudos for ABC. When The Bachelor
aired at 9 p.m., half of Lost's audience fled. Despite a few format tweaks, like the ladies picking their suitor, the two-hour premiere turned in a soft 8.2 million viewers and a 3.7 rating in 18-49s.

Of course, for these and other new shows, the 2004-05 TV season is still embryonic.

While NBC unfurled new programs in late August to capture some post-Olympics glow, its competitors opted for a more traditional late-September rollout. A few shows, including ABC's anticipated Practice
spinoff Boston Legal
and NBC's venerable The West Wing, won't premiere until next month. And Fox is holding off launching any new shows until after the Major League Baseball playoffs.

Still, last week's first wave provided a taste of what's to come.

Though their debuts were encouraging, two NBC dramas are now hurting. In its third week, lackluster cop drama Hawaii
tumbled to 7.4 million viewers and a 2.2 rating in the 18-49 demo. NBC Universal Television Group chief Jeff Zucker has questioned whether a drama can thrive in an 8 p.m. slot, though ABC's Lost
debunks that theory. NBC's airport drama LAX
isn't as troubled, but the show is battling Monday Night Football
and CSI: Miami. After a solid series premiere Sept. 13, LAX
skidded 40% last week to 7.9 million viewers and a 3.1 rating up against the season premiere of CSI: Miami, which delivered 22.4 million viewers and an 8.1 rating in the 18-49 demo and a 10.1 for adults 25-54.

Another pressing concern for NBC is rival CBS's success with the 18-49 demo, NBC's bread-and-butter. CBS has challenged—and in some slots last week even defeated—NBC in the demo. "Adults 25-54 is really our business, but to be competitive in 18-49s is icing on the cake," says CBS's Kahl.

As for The WB, after a tough season last year, it's clawing back.

Returning hits Gilmore Girls, 7th Heaven
and Smallville
all notched strong ratings in total viewers and in the network's key 12-34 demo. Moving freshman drama The Mountain
to Wednesdays (it was originally slated to go against The O.C.
on Thursdays) is looking smart. The drama collected 3.9 million viewers and a 2.0 rating in the 12-34 demo.

UPN's third season of America's Next Top Model
hit the runway Sept. 22 with 3.6 million viewers, off about 25% from the season-two debut last winter. The reality modeling show was a strong draw with young women 12-34, collecting a 3.5 rating and a 2.2 rating in adults 12-34. Its lead-out, new drama Veronica Mars, faded a bit, with 2.5 million viewers and a 1.7 rating for women 12-34 and a 1.2 rating for adults 12-34.

No matter which show is hobbling or riding high, network executives know the landscape will change in the coming weeks. For openers, more shows are still debuting.

"You know these guys are going to make moves and pull shows even before sweeps," says Adgate. "There is a long season ahead."