'Taken' Abducts Viewers for Sci Fi

Thu Dec 5, 1:00 AM ET
By John Dempsey

NEW YORK (Variety) - "Steven Spielberg Presents Taken," the Sci Fi Channel's 20-hour, 10-night programming gamble, has soared off the launching pad during its first two nights, engineering the best ratings in the history of the network.

"We're ecstatic about the numbers," said Darryl Frank, co-head of DreamWorks TV, which produced the show for Sci Fi.

If viewers continue to follow the saga of three generations of alien abductions and governmental conspiracies, DreamWorks and the Sci Fi Channel don't rule out the possibility of keeping the concept alive next year, possibly as a regularly scheduled series.

Keeping the production quality of a series up to the level of the $40 million miniseries could pose a problem. But Frank said that "Taken" is selling well abroad "because it delivers a mix of sci-fi special effects with strong characters and family drama."

On its two-hour opening night, Monday at 9, "Taken" seized 3.9 million households (6.14 million viewers), more than any other individual program since Sci Fi debuted in September 1992. "Taken" beat the previous Sci Fi Channel record, earned by part one of mini "Frank Herbert's Dune," by an otherworldly 28%. Episode came in first for the night among all basic-cable networks not only in households but in adults 18-49 (a 3.1 rating) and adults 25-54 (4.0 rating).

On Tuesday "Taken" showed only a modest falloff in households to a still gaudy 3.29 million households (4.84 million viewers). It averaged a 2.8 rating in adults 25-54 and a 2.2 in adults 18-49.

Mini's Tuesday performance may have come partly out of the hide of another cable programming phenom, MTV's "The Osbournes," which became a surprise hit earlier this year when, in its first season, it managed to build its audience consistently episode-by-episode.

On Tuesday from 10:30-11, the second episode of the reality sitcom's new season dropped considerably from its premiere last week. Tuesday, the show drew 4.2 million viewers, down a whopping 36% from the 6.6 million who watched the season premiere. Tuesday's episode featured the family dealing with the news of matriarch Sharon Osbourne's cancer diagnosis.

The first 10 hours of "Taken" conclude Friday, but Sci Fi will repeat them twice on the weekend in a marathon for anyone who missed one or more episodes. The cable channel will run the show in a similar pattern next week, with the final two hours airing Dec. 13. All 20 hours will be available over the Dec. 14-15 weekend in a blow-out marathon.

Even if the numbers for "Taken" hold up over the next 10 days, Frank said it's unlikely the success will start a trend toward lengthier miniseries by the broadcast networks. In an era of hundreds of broadcast, cable and pay-per-view channels, audience fragmentation makes it risky for networks to bank on masses of viewers committing to six hours or more of a miniseries the way they used to when there were only three broadcast networks and cable was in its infancy.

Meanwhile, Sci Fi is using "Taken" as a promotional platform for March's "Frank Herbert's Children of Dune" miniseries sequel, as well as for its new episodes of returning series "Stargate SG-1" and "Farscape" early next year.