Anna Nicole Smith's series debut sets records. Millions ignore critics to make ''The Anna Nicole Show'' the most-watched program in E!'s history and the most-watched reality premiere on basic cable

Critics have unanimously called E!’s ”The Anna Nicole Show” an exploitative new low in reality programming — Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker called it a ”human train wreck” — for its humiliating footage of the seemingly oblivious and disoriented plus-size bombshell. Audiences apparently agreed, but thought those were the show’s positive attributes. As a result, viewers made Sunday’s premiere a record-breaking bonanza for E!, drawing the highest ratings for any show in the entertainment channel’s history, including its red-carpet awards show coverage.

The show drew a 4.1 Nielsen household rating, which corresponds to about 4 million viewers. That makes it the highest-rated debut for a reality show on basic cable and the second highest-rated basic cable series debut ever, behind only the 4.7 rating earned by the premiere of ”The Dead Zone” on USA earlier this summer. (By comparison, ”The Osbournes” debuted at 2.8, though the audience blossomed over the next few episodes.)

In a summer heavy on network reruns of scripted series, reality fare has done well in the ratings. According to the Nielsen numbers released yesterday, two of last week’s top 10 shows were last Tuesday and Wednesday’s episodes of ”American Idol,” coming in at Nos. 4 and 10, with 12.2 million and 10.2 million viewers, respectively. ”Dog Eat Dog” came in at No. 6, with 11.7 million.

The Anna Nicole Show
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