CBS' square military drama is advancing on the 18-35 demo
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Credit: Jag: Cliff Lipson
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In troubled times, American couch potatoes have turned to familiar television fare for solace. In its eighth season, for example, NBC’s beloved ”Friends” is off to its best start in years — as is CBS’ six-year-old ”Everybody Loves Raymond.” And then there’s ”JAG.” This fall, CBS’ square-as-a-semaphore military drama has shown a surprising resurgence. ”Jag”’s Sept. 25 season premiere snagged the second-highest ratings in its seven-year history and registered a 39 percent bump in the coveted 18?49 demographic over last year’s. Plus, it repeatedly wins its Tuesday time slot, even beating Fox’s hip college sitcom ”Undeclared.”

Why are viewers giving ”JAG” an 18-share salute? Executive producer and creator Donald Bellisario credits the national wave of patriotism for part of the show’s new strength. ”People are tuning in to get some insight into what the military is all about,” he says. ”We show the positive and the negative, but we also give respect to those officers who lay it on the line.” Lead actor David James Elliott, who portrays hunky lawyer Cmdr. Harmon Rabb in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office, agrees. ”In the past, people thought the show was all about the military and just decided that they didn’t like it,” says Elliott. ”The fact that we’re feeling more favorably about our military can only help.”

In fact, the Navy-supported series does seem to be benefiting from the current flag-waving mood. Unlike such CIA-backed shows as CBS’ ”The Agency” and ABC’s ”Alias,” which have shown disappointing ratings to date despite heavy promotion. ”The irony is that the show hasn’t changed,” says ”JAG” coexecutive producer and head writer Stephen Zito. ”People have just figured out that we’re here and they like what they’re seeing.”

It wasn’t always this easy. ”JAG” debuted in 1995 on NBC, but was canceled after only a year. The series was picked up as a midseason replacement by then-third-place CBS, where it enjoyed solid ratings — except for last season’s stint against ABC’s then-hot ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

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