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Fans rediscover 'Lost' as premiere ratings climb

Lost finalABC's "Lost" ratings have managed to go back in time.

The final season of the epic drama got under way Tuesday night with verystrong numbers that managed to gain on last year's opener.

After years of decline, this is the first time since the show's second-season debut that a "Lost" premiere has improved year-over-year.  

Last night's two-hour debut was seen by 12.1 million viewers and generated a 5.6 preliminary rating among adults 18-49. That's up 12%.

ABC has been pounding the pavement to catch up viewersfor the sixth season, as heavily serialized shows like "Lost" tend to have extremedifficulty recapturing fans once they've fallen behind on thenarrative. It seems the big-event buzz surrounding the show's final season, combined with ABC's marketing efforts, has paid off. Even the "Lost" clip show special surprised, pulling 9.9 million viewers and a 4.1 rating.  

"Lost" easily beat NBC's "The Biggest Loser" (9.5 million, 3.7), which had a last-minute time period change that moved the reality show directly against the ABC drama.

Some are going to crow that "Loser" took on "Lost" and, well, lost. But sources last week said the larger reason for the move wasn't to attack "Lost," but to avoid airing against Fox's "American Idol" AND "Lost." Airing against both hours of "Lost" was viewed as preferable than getting the "Idol" / "Lost" one-two combo. Plus, it's a nice treat for NBC affiliates to actually have a strong lead-in for their local news for once. This wasn't necessarily an aggressive move that backfired, in other words, but a lesser-of-two-evils choice.

As for the "Lost" premiere itself, the beginning was somewhat sluggish (ratings slipped about a tenth after the first hour). Yet by the second hour, "Lost" was in full creative gallop, answering old questions (What is the smoke monster?) and raising new ones. For fans, the best moment was -- here at the start of its final season -- "Lost" finally found itself a true villain ... maybe. 

Also Tuesday: Fox won the night with a steady "American Idol" (24.4 million, 8.9). At 9 p.m., after debuting to a meager number after "Dollhouse" on Friday, Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" (9.3 million, 3.9) shot up a ridiculous 179% to a series high with an "Idol" lead-in. "Nightmares" also improved 26% on "Human Target" in the slot the week before and landed in second place at 9 p.m. -- clearly this show benefits from a strong reality lead-in.

CBS was in third with "NCIS" (19.1 million, 4.3), up 8%. "NCIS: Los Angeles" (16.4 million, 3.6) and "Good Wife" (12.7 million, 2.6) took a hit, down 3% and 13%, respectively. The CW aired repeats.