NEW YORK – In a closely watched duel between New York-focused crime dramas, the first round goes to "CSI: New York" over "Law & Order."
But the most stunning development from Wednesday night was the birth of a potential hit for ABC, a network that sorely needs one. The new drama, "Lost," (search) was sampled by 18 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The CBS premiere of the third installment of the "CSI" franchise, starring Gary Sinise (search) and Melina Kanakaredes, drew 18.5 million viewers, Nielsen said.
In the same 10 p.m. EDT time slot, "Law & Order" opened its 15th season with 15.7 million people, Nielsen said. Another new "Law & Order" edition aired as a special at 9 p.m., and that had 18.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen's preliminary estimate.
The "CSI: New York" (search) victory wasn't wholly unexpected. The franchise is hot -- "CSI: Miami" had 22.5 million viewers for its season premiere Monday -- and CBS has been relentlessly promoting the second spinoff. "CSI" also won among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic craved by advertisers.
If the new series' numbers hold up, it could mean some long-term problems for NBC.
"Law & Order" has been one of its sturdiest franchises, and Wednesday's opening drew slightly less than the show's average for all of last season. NBC could be tempted to move it and compete with "CSI: New York" with something other than a crime drama.
Flipping time slots with "The West Wing" (search) may seem an obvious solution, but "Law & Order" is the more popular show and the White House drama is widely considered to be nearing the end of its run.
Even at ABC on Wednesday, jaws were dropping at the ratings for "Lost," the drama about plane crash victims trapped on a tropical island with monsters. The Associated Press' Frazier Moore called it "'Gilligan's Island,' the nightmare edition."
It was the highest-rated drama premiere on ABC since 1995's "Murder One," and nearly beat the offerings of CBS and NBC combined in the time slot.
Even better for ABC, the viewership grew from 17.3 million in the first half-hour to 18.7 million in the second. That's considered a strong indication of popularity, meaning few viewers were turning away in disgust and, instead, more were coming in due to word-of-mouth.