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EW.com rates the fall's biggest new TV hits

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Marg Helgenberger
Helgenberger: Robert Voets/CBS

Despite the slew of interruptions from the presidential debates and the baseball playoffs, television audiences have flocked to support their favorite new shows. And viewers have wisely ignored several misplaced, miscast, and misconceived first-season flops (including NBC’s just axed ”Malcolm in the Middle” clone ”Tucker”). With the help of four TV analysts, EW.com examines the prime time schedule — and predicts which of the early winners will stay healthy, and which new shows are headed for the critical list.

PICTURES OF HEALTH

”C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation” (CBS, Fridays, 9 p.m.)
Vital Signs The Jerry Bruckheimer produced drama about crime scene investigators upstaged its heavily hyped and more expensively produced 8 p.m. lead in , ”The Fugitive,” by debuting in the top 10 (finishing ninth with 17.3 million viewers). In its second outing, ”C.S.I.” came in a still impressive 17th, with an audience of 15.8 million.
Diagnosis ”It’s doing better than we ever imagined,” says Steve Sternberg, of ad buying firm TN Media. ”I thought it would be at most a sleeper hit.” Bill Cella, an executive VP of broadcasting at Universal McCann, explains the show’s early success: ”It’s got some of the best acting and writing on TV. The cast and the story lines appeal not only to crime fans but to anyone who likes good dramas.”
Prognosis One of the few good reasons to stay home on Friday nights.

”Dark Angel” (Fox, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.)
Vital Signs Cover girl Jessica Alba is kicking butt in the ratings. Granted, the futuristic sci fi action series has aired opposite the bland and blander presidential debates, but ”Dark Angel” still delivered an average of 15.4 million viewers these past three weeks; that’s 90 percent more than last year’s average for ”Party of Five.” And so far, ”Dark Angel” is the highest rated new series among adults 18 to 49.
Diagnosis ”It’s got an expensive production budget and great special effects, not to mention a fantastic lead, ” says Cella. ”So its no wonder the show attracts so many young sci fi fans.”
Prognosis Could be the miracle Fox needed for its Tuesday night schedule.

”The District”(CBS, Saturdays, 10 p.m.)
Vital Signs Craig T. Nelson’s D.C. police drama is the only Saturday night series to land in the top 30 in the past two weeks. With an average of 14.1 million viewers, ”The District” attracts approximately 3 million more people than its lead in, CBS’s steady performer ”Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Diagnosis ”’This one was a hit with advertisers even before it aired,” says Paul Schulman, president of media buying company Schulman/ Advanswers NY. ”It’s opposite movies [on ABC and NBC], so it’s the perfect alternative for Saturday night viewers who want an ongoing drama.”
Prognosis If only ”That’s Life” could rally fans at 8 p.m., the Tiffany network could claim their most successful Saturday night lineup since ”Dr. Quinn” was on.

”Yes, Dear” (CBS, Mondays, 8:30 p.m.)
Vital Signs Despite mixed reviews, the lineup’s newest sitcom about two married with children sisters — one’s a yuppie, the other’s a slacker — gained viewers from its opener (14.6 million) to its sophomore episode (14.7 million). So far, the show has even bested the series that precedes it, the popular ”King of Queens.”
Diagnosis ”It’s perfectly compatible with its fellow Monday night shows,” says Sternberg. Adds Marc Berman of Mediaweek.com: ”Viewers can have their fill of in-laws humor.”
Prognosis A long, happy life on CBS’s powerful Monday nights.

IN NEED OF RESUSCITATION

”FreakyLinks” (Fox, Fridays, 9 p.m.)
Vital Signs This grim thriller about a young webmaster who tracks down paranormal events debuted to a mediocre audience of 6.8 million, but then lost more than 2 million viewers (mostly men 18 to 34) its second week out, probably to NBC’s Yankees vs. Mariners game. That’s no improvement over last year’s much hyped but short lived virtual reality series ”Harsh Realm.”
Diagnosis ”I think it’s too contrived,” says Cella of the premise. ”Even if the website is good, it’s not a show that has caught on with the sci fi fans it needs to court.” Still, the show’s vibrant website has gotten rave reviews — and may yet drive Net surfers to the small screen.
Prognosis Maybe Fox should add an hour to their successful reality show ”Police Videos.”

”The Trouble With Normal” (ABC, Fridays, 8:30 p.m.)
Vital Signs On ABC’s new male targeted Friday nights, ”Normal” is in severe ratings trouble against CBS’s ”The Fugitive” and NBC’s ”Providence.” The first three episodes have averaged 6.1 million viewers, which is 32 percent less than watched ”Boy Meets World” in the same time period last year.
Diagnosis ”’The Trouble With Normal’ is subnormal,” says Schulman. Cella agrees: ”I don’t think there are enough paranoid twentysomethings in the country to watch this show.”
Prognosis TGIF may not look so bad right about now. Berman speculates: ”Maybe Regis could do a fifth night of ‘Millionaire’ for ABC.”

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