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PREDICTING WINNERS AND LOSERS EVEN THOUGH THE SEASON JUST STARTED

If you believe network promos, "The Guardian" on CBS is the No. 1 new drama of the season. If you believe ABC, "Alias" is No. 1. And for a while there, NBC proclaimed "Crossing Jordan" as No. 1. Viewers may be asking, what's going on here?

It is simple. The networks use different scoring systems. "The Guardian" is No. 1 in households, "Alias" is No. 1 with viewers ages 18 through 49 who advertisers prefer, overtaking "Crossing Jordan" after a few episodes.

It isn't always wise to rely on household ratings in determining the early winners and losers of the fall TV season. Some low-rated series can hang on for a while because they have acceptable demographics.

It is only four weeks into a most unusual season delayed by war, but some trends about winners and losers have already emerged. Let's take a network-by-network look:

NBC

You don't have to be as clever as Jill Hennessy's character in "Crossing Jordan" to understand why the network has stopped running the first-week promos that suggested it was a hit show. The preposterous series in which Hennessy plays a crime-solving coroner has lost viewers most every week at 10 p.m. to CBS' "Family Law."

That said, NBC has to be pleased with its demographics and the fact that it is even competing in this time slot.

Last week's episode of "Scrubs" was its strongest of the season, but ratings aren't great after "Frasier," and it soon will be competing with NYPD Blue" and "24," the exceptional Fox drama that is getting the season's best buzz. NBC has already ordered a full season of "Scrubs" episodes, but probably would like to see better ratings.

"Emeril" is losing audience weekly and looks like a goner even if NBC is making it on the cheap. The critically slammed Sunday series, "UC: Undercover," did about as well as "Scrubs" a week ago and it is getting decent demographics opposite ABC's hit, "The Practice."

The latest "Law & Order" series, "Criminal Intent" did OK in a special Wednesday airing in the original series time slot, but it isn't anything special.

Finally, there's "Inside Schwartz," the post-"Friends" comedy with all the inside sports references. NBC is promoting it as the highest-rated new comedy, but with the lead-in it is getting even "Emeril" could be a hit. Well, anything but "Emeril."

"Schwartz" is losing a substantial percentage of its lead-in and now it is facing "Survivor." Unless things improve, Rob Johnson has a better chance of avoiding being sacked than "Schwartz."

Starting with "Friends" and continuing with "Law & Order" and "The West Wing," NBC's returning favorites are doing well. Sherry Stringfield's return to "ER" last Thursday gave the series some needed spark. It is almost certain to be the week's highest-rated program with viewers 18 to 49 and in total viewers.

ABC

Its programming gambles have backfired. Jason Alexander's series, "Bob Patterson," didn't have a chance opposite "Frasier" and now is getting a second shot at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, where it better impress quickly or it will be a goner by the end of the month. ABC also has been hit by declining numbers for "Monday Night Football" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

"Philly," the Kim Delaney legal series that airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday, is struggling creatively and in the ratings. It will probably get a few more weeks to grow or else "NYPD Blue" may get its later spot back after a few weeks as its lead-in at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

"Alias," in which Jennifer Garner plays an athletic and romantic CIA agent has had a healthy start on Sundays, but in four episodes it has gotten to be as predictable as it is preposterous. Buffalo viewers have been abandoning it. If it gets a second season, it will be because of its appeal to younger viewers.

ABC already dumped the "Mole 2" as its 8 p.m. Friday show because of bad household and demographic ratings. The reality series was a poor lead-in for the romantic caper series, "Thieves," which isn't doing as well as expected. The 10 p.m. romantic family drama, "Once and Again," also appears vulnerable. With all of ABC's problems, it probably won't be able to afford carrying these high quality shows on Fridays for much longer.

ABC's big surprise is the Wednesday success of the Jim Belushi family comedy, "According to Jim." Though I liked it, most reviews were extremely unkind.

CBS

This network also made some miscalculations. The delay in launching "Survivor 3" allowed "Friends" to rebound. "Wolf Lake" is an intriguing show that belonged on Fox and should soon be history. "The Agency" is a boring CIA series that wastes an impressive cast and is tastelessly trying to take advantage of frightening current events. At least it pulled an anthrax episode it had promoted.

"Danny," the Daniel Stern family comedy, wasn't given a chance on Fridays and was canceled after two weeks. "Ellen," the new Ellen DeGeneres series, isn't doing much better than "Danny" and will have to move to survive.

"Citizen Baines," the series about a U.S. senator (James Cromwell) who lost his re-election race and now has to deal with his three grown children, may be too intelligent to air on Saturday nights and isn't getting as many Nielsen votes as CBS' other Saturday series but it was a few spots from "Alias" a week ago.

CBS is promoting Richard Dreyfuss' new Sunday series, "The Education of Max Bickford," as a hit but its numbers have declined and it still may not make the grade. The Tuesday series about a corporate lawyer who finds his heart, "The Guardian," is doing quite well and has been guaranteed a full season. But it will soon be battling "24" and "NYPD Blue."

Fox

This certainly is the right year to delay premieres until November. Fortunately for Fox, the baseball playoffs have delayed most of its series until late October and early November. Among those that have already premiered, "Undeclared," the sweet laugh-free, nostalgic comedy about college, is holding most of the audience of its Tuesday lead-in, "That '70s Show." "Pasadena" really never had a chance on Fridays and will either be canceled or moved. The reality series, "Love Cruise," bombed.

Fox will spend a considerable amount of time during the next two weeks weeks of baseball promoting "The Tick," "The Bernie Mac Show," "24" and "Temptation Island 2."

UPN

WNGS, one of the weaker affiliates, received an out-of-this-world 5 rating for the premiere of "Enterprise," the new "Star Trek" series. That just about says it all about how well this network is doing. "Enterprise" also is a big demographic hit.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Roswell" - the two series that the so-called Used Parts Network grabbed from WB - are giving the network higher ratings than it is used to on Tuesdays. But UPN is paying a fortune for "Buffy" and probably expected it to beat "Gilmore Girls" on WB in households. In its second week, it didn't. "One-on-One," the new comedy bashed by critics, is doing amazingly well in the Monday night lineup. And, of course, nothing is stopping WWF on Thursday.

WB

The two-hour premiere of "Gilmore Girls" had the series' highest ratings and it almost did as well as the return of "Buffy" on UPN. Though "Buffy" destroys "Gilmore Girls" among male viewers, "Gilmore Girls" won the household battle a week ago and appears to have more growth potential. The addition of Rose McGowan to "Charmed" helped that returning series get off to a fine start and "7th Heaven" remains a big winner.

WB's Friday comedies started decently, with raunchy "Reba" getting a big opening and surprisingly settling in with decent numbers by WB standards. One doubts that can last. "Off Centre," the disgusting Sunday comedy, is down at the bottom of the list of weekly shows, where it belongs. "Maybe It's Me," WB's best new comedy, surprisingly isn't doing any better than "Off Centre."

Superman came to the rescue last Tuesday with "Smallville," the series about young Clark Kent before he fully realized his powers, soaring in its Tuesday premiere. But it soon will be facing "24," so all of his powers will be needed to keep the series' momentum.

e-mail apergament@buffnews.com

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