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`Ugly Betty' makes ABC pretty happy

September 30, 2006|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

ABC executives don't have to cringe anymore when the topic of Thursdays comes up. Thanks to "Grey's Anatomy" and now "Ugly Betty," the network is beginning to unlock CBS' grip on TV's showcase night.

"Ugly Betty," an Americanized version of a Colombian soap opera about an unglamorous but resourceful young woman who finds work at a snooty fashion magazine, premiered on Thursday as the most-watched new show of the fall, averaging 16.1 million viewers, according to early data from Nielsen Media Research.

At 8 p.m., "Betty" emerged as a strong No. 2 to CBS' "Survivor: Cook Islands" (16.6 million), which on this week's episode merged the tribes that had been divided along ethnic lines, effectively ending a controversial "social experiment."

Meanwhile, "Grey's" at 9 p.m. was the night's top-rated show among adults aged 18 to 49, although CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" narrowed the gap considerably compared with last week's numbers. NBC's game show "Deal or No Deal" trailed badly.

For the night overall, ABC narrowly beat CBS among the crucial 18 to 49 demographic -- its second Thursday victory in a row -- although CBS remained the most-watched network (18.3 million viewers versus ABC's 16.7 million).

It's a noteworthy turnabout for ABC, which had been a Thursday also-ran for years, standing by helplessly while CBS, and before that NBC, soaked up high commercial rates from movie studios, car companies and other advertisers luring weekend-minded consumers.

Last season, for example, the network was mired down with the low-rated "Alias" and the thriller remake "The Night Stalker," both since canceled.

But it's not a tale of unalloyed triumph. At 10 p.m., ABC has seen mediocre results for its drama "Six Degrees," which on Thursday delivered 10.8 million viewers, No. 3 behind CBS' James Woods legal drama "Shark" (14.7 million) and NBC's "ER" (14.3 million).

Jeff Bader, ABC Entertainment's executive vice president, said Friday that ABC "would have to work on" "Six Degrees." But he added that ABC planned to stick with the program and that it had still dramatically bolstered the network's previous performance at that hour. Any perception of underperformance, he said, was simply another measure of how far ABC had come. "Who would have thought a year ago that a show that improved our performance by 200% would be something we'd have to work on?" he said.


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