ABC surges ahead of NBC in weekly ratings. Hits like ''Desperate Housewives'' and ''Lost'' help ABC while Bush and Kerry bench NBC's and CBS' powerful Thursday lineups

By Gary Susman
Updated October 06, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

ABC appears desperate no more. The perennial also-ran network is now the home of several newly-minted hit shows, led by Desperate Housewives, whose Sunday premiere drew 21.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen, to finish as the week’s most-watched program. The network also has new top 20 hits in Lost (No. 7 this week) and Practice spinoff Boston Legal, which premiered at No. 18 on Sunday. Along with reality hits Wife Swap and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, as well as Monday Night Football, ABC’s slate averaged 10.8 million for the week, passing NBC to finish second in overall viewers and first among the 18-to-49-year-old audience that advertisers crave.

ABC got some help this week from an unlikely pair: George W. Bush and John Kerry. The presidential debate sidelined most of the all-powerful Thursday lineups of CBS and NBC. Still, CBS was able to pull off a win for the week, averaging 12.3 million viewers, while NBC finished third with 9.7 million and no show in the top 12 for the first time in memory. Fox continued to struggle, finishing a distant fourth with 5 million. Despite strong showings for new drama Kevin Hill and America’s Next Top Model, UPN finished behind the WB, with 3.1 million to the Frog’s 4 million.