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FRESHMAN EXAMINATION A month into the season, and not one smash hit. Still, even with overall viewership down for the broadcast nets, the situation isn’t as dire as some might have you believe. One reason: ABC, NBC, and CBS each have at least two candidates for renewal, which already beats last season’s record (the three brought back a total of three of 1997’s new shows). To wit: CBS’ Monday-night sitcom The King of Queens is showing both creative power (proving to be more than just an Everybody Loves Raymond knockoff) and ratings prowess. It builds on its Cosby lead-in by 19 percent in the key 18-to-49 demographic, is the No. 1 entertainment show in its time slot, and the third most-watched new comedy, behind NBC’s Jesse and ABC’s The Hughleys. The Eye also has a winner in Martial Law, the fall’s most-watched new drama. Granted, that title may not mean a heck of a lot when you consider Law draws fewer viewers than the under-performing Early Edition did in the same slot a year ago, but it’s helping CBS in its main goal: building the 25-to-54 male demo, by 10 percent compared to a year ago. Law was just picked up for an entire season, and many suspect the addition of Arsenio Hall, perhaps permanently, might broaden the show’s audience even more.

The Hughleys is not only winning its time period in adults 18-to-49, it’s the first non-T.G.I.F. ABC sitcom with a black lead to perform so well since Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper in 1992-93. ABC has also struck ratings gold with Two of a Kind (starring those irrepressible Olsen twins) and demo gold with Fantasy Island, which is up almost 30 percent among 18- to 49-year olds over last year’s Total Security. Since ABC’s Saturday night has long been a graveyard, this may be as close to a fantasy as it can hope for.

It’s tougher to measure success for NBC. Yes, Jesse is the most-watched new comedy, but a test pattern behind Friends would probably do well. The real deal is Monday’s Will & Grace, which builds on it’s Caroline in the City lead-in in total viewers and 18- to 49-year olds. Not bad considering Caroline is now struggling against heavyweights Raymond and Fox’s Ally McBeal.

The Hughleys
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