The "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" lifeline hoisted ABC to its highest-rated week in more than four years, attracting the biggest audience for any prime-time program broadcast this season, based on viewing estimates issued Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research.
With "Millionaire" to air regularly three times a week and ABC broadcasting this year's Super Bowl, the network now has a legitimate chance of overtaking both NBC and CBS before the season is over.
Though millions flee from adjacent ABC fare, "Millionaire" is exhibiting a halo effect benefiting other ABC shows. "The Drew Carey Show," "Dharma & Greg" and "Sports Night" all climbed to record heights, while "NYPD Blue" turned in its biggest premiere audience since 1996 and Friday's "20/20" posted a season high.
Despite ABC's commanding victory, the network didn't quite corner the market on good news. Fox's new comedy "Malcolm in the Middle" improved on its hit credentials, exceeding its premiere rating and again drawing far more viewers than established lead-in "The Simpsons."