NEW YORK – America may be falling for America Ferrera, the star of ABC's "Ugly Betty," an underdog that has become the most-watched new series of the fall television season so far.
The comedy, which stars Ferrera as a plain Queens girl who pushed her way into the fashion world, was seen by 16.1 million people in its ABC debut on Thursday night, according to Nielsen Media Research.
All but about a half-dozen of the 24 new series the broadcast networks are introducing this fall have made it onto the air already, and so far "Ugly Betty" stands at No. 1.
The show did it without the advantage of a strong program airing ahead of it. Shows like "Shark" and "Brothers & Sisters" that have had strong debuts were helped because they followed "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Desperate Housewives." "Ugly Betty" opened the night at 8 p.m. ET.
It was ABC's largest audience in the time period with a scripted show since "Matlock" in 1995, according to Nielsen Media Research.
ABC, owned by The Walt Disney Co., had some inkling that "Ugly Betty," an American version of a popular Spanish-language telenovela, was attracting attention even before the first episode aired. It had originally scheduled the show for Friday nights — one of the slowest nights on TV — before switching it to Thursday over the summer.
With "Grey's Anatomy" seen by 23.3 million at 9 p.m., ABC is suddenly a player on a night considered television's most valuable because advertisers are eager to be seen there, a night it has been off the ratings radar for years.
CBS, which has dominated Thursday the past few years, had 23.5 million viewers for "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and 16.6 million viewers for "Survivor: Cook Island."
The "Survivor" episode, only its third of the season, was notable for breaking up the segregated tribes that caused some hubbub weeks ago.
This season began with separate "tribes" of black, white, Asian and Latinos on "Survivor." The segregation drew criticism, with some New York City Council members accusing CBS Corp. of promoting divisiveness.
But on Thursday the reality show producers merged those four tribes into two multi-race gangs. It wasn't in response to any of the criticism; the "Survivor" episodes were filmed before CBS had even announced the cast members.
The show had begun the season missing a few advertisers that it had in past seasons, including General Motors, although the advertisers denied that they left because of the segregation experiment.
The average viewership of the first two episodes was essentially the same as "Survivor" last year, even up slightly.