ABC Gains Ratings Toehold with 'Hot' Debut

Fri Feb 14, 8:08 PM ET
By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The debut of ribald reality show "Are You Hot?" trailed prime-time favorites like "CSI" and "Friends" but drew enough viewers to give ABC a long-sought-after ratings toehold on television's most competitive night.

Pilloried by critics as virtual soft-core porn, "Are You Hot? The Search for America's Sexiest People," averaged 10.1 million viewers on Thursday, nearly double ABC's average audience in that time slot this season, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The show also nearly tripled ABC's ratings among adult viewers younger than 50, the demographic most prized by advertisers, for the Thursday, 9 o'clock hour.

The last time ABC achieved higher ratings with regular programming in that time period was two years ago when the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" was still on the air.

The Nielsen numbers for "Are You Hot" might be seen as room-temperature ratings by most standards. But the show was up against some of the heaviest competition on TV, airing opposite the final half hour of "Survivor: The Amazon" and the first half-hour of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" on CBS and against "Friends" and "Will & Grace" on NBC.

The show's performance also was impressive given that the 9 o'clock hour on Thursday has generally proven to be a ratings tar pit for such short-lived ABC dramas as "Dinotopia" and "Push, Nevada."

"We're extremely happy," an ABC spokesman told Reuters on Friday. "This has been a sore spot for the network in terms of getting a foothold in, and we did just that last night."

LURING VIEWERS FROM CABLE

While ABC's numbers improved, neither NBC or CBS appeared to have been dented, a sign that "Are You Hot?" was luring viewers away from cable, ABC's spokesman said.

"Are You Hot?" is the latest brainchild of reality producer Mike Fleiss, creator of ABC's hit made-for-TV mating game "The Bachelor." But it more closely follows the mold of the Fox network's talent-search sensation "American Idol," with legions of undiscovered hunks and babes competing for top eye-candy honors and six-figure cash prizes.

The wannabe pinups strut their pecs and cleavage before a rowdy "Jerry Springer"-like audience and a panel of judges, including Lorenzo Lamas, model Rachel Hunter and designer Randolph Duke.

The show is the latest in a parade of gonzo "reality" shows coming to TV. ABC next week debuts "I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out Of Here," featuring a cast of B-list celebrities roughing it in the Australian outback. Also in development is "The Will," in which contestants will compete for the inheritance of a rich relative in prime time.

In the overall ratings race, CBS finished the night No. 1 in total viewers and young adults, its first such Thursday victory during a February "sweep" in 10 years.

And in a rare matchup between television's two highest-rated dramas, CBS's "CSI" became the first drama to surpass NBC hospital series "ER" in both total viewers and in young adults. The 90-minute "CSI" episode was the night's most watched show, averaging more than 27 million viewers.

The premiere of "Survivor: The Amazon" was second in overall audience, drawing 23.6 million viewers, up slightly from the launch of the previous edition of the franchise, "Survivor: Thailand" last September.