'Bar' is toast of the town; 'Gossip' great

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September got off to a hot start with two strong premieres Monday: the debut of TNT's new drama series "Raising the Bar," which set a cable record, and the Season 2 opener of the CW's "Gossip Girl," which posted the drama's highest ratings ever.

TNT set the bar high with Steven Bochco's "Bar," which debuted with 7.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched series premiere ever on ad-supported cable, according to Nielsen Cable Fast Nationals. That beat the previous mark set in 2004 by USA Network's "The 4400" (7.4 million) and also bested the 2005 debut of TNT's hit drama "The Closer" (7 million).

In the key demos, "Bar," starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Gloria Reuben and Jane Kaczmarek, drew 2.8 million adults 18-49 and 3.5 million adults 25-54, surpassing USA's "In Plain Sight" with the best numbers for a new series bow on ad-supported cable this year.

"This proves we can compete with broadcast," said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, which includes TNT. "The world of television is changing, and quality dramas will attract a large audience."

Meanwhile, CW executives breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday as the Season 2 premiere of "Gossip Girl" set new records in all of the show's key demos.

"Gossip" (3.4 million viewers, 1.7 rating/5 share among adults 18-49, 2.3/7 in 18-34 in preliminary Nielsen estimates) returned up 6% from its premiere last year in 18-49 and up 10% among the key 18-34 demographic. The numbers are particularly impressive because last year "Gossip" launched behind the CW's highest-rated show, "America's Next Top Model," whereas this year the series had to self-start at 8 p.m.

Additionally, buzz for the already buzz-heavy show was aided by encouraging reviews and a clever ad campaign that turned negative critical blurbs from the first season into guilty-pleasure endorsements.

"Gossip" also served as a strong lead-in for the Season 6 premiere of "One Tree Hill" (3.1 million, 1.6/4 in 18-49, 2.3/7 in 18-34), which also was up about 7% compared with last year's debut.

The numbers indicate that the CW hasn't been stymied by its low-rated rerun-stuffed summer and sets the stage for potentially record-setting numbers for Tuesday night's premiere of "90210."

Labor Day's other season premiere — Fox's "Prison Break" — had a less sunny return. The two-hour premiere (6.5 million, 2.6/7) was down 21% from its debut last year and posted a series low.

Still, "Break" tied NBC's "Deal or No Deal" (10.9 million, 2.6/7) as the highest-rated show and led Fox to win the night. NBC placed second, with "Deal" giving away its first-ever million-dollar cash prize, followed by the second episode of "America's Toughest Jobs," which dropped 11% (7.3 million, 2.4/6). (partialdiff)
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