North looks south for hits again

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TORONTO -- Two weeks into Canada's new fall TV season, the popularity of such blue-chip U.S. fare as Fox's "Prison Break" and "House" and ABC's "Lost" continues to drive Canadian primetime as major domestic networks rely on returning American serial dramas for solid ratings.

"The real pop so far is from the sophomore shows," Susanne Boyce, president of programming at top-rated CTV, said after ABC's "Criminal Minds" moved up from the top 20 last year to eighth place this week on Wednesday night with 2.04 million viewers, according to BBM Nielsen numbers.

CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" drew 3.8 million viewers this week to retain its place as the top-rated show on Canadian TV, and "CSI: Miami" is in third place with 2.69 million viewers. "House" is in the Canadian No. 2 slot this week with 2.7 million viewers.

In fourth place is "Survivor" with 2.45 million viewers, followed by workhorse "ER" with 2.4 million.

"The top 20 from last fall looks like the top 20 (this season), which is great for us," Boyce said.

"We're off to a great start," Barb Williams, senior vp programming and production at Global Television parent CanWest MediaWorks, said of the early ratings.

"We're delighted with how strongly 'Survivor' and 'House' have come back, and 'Prison Break' has come back at the top of its game," she added.

Fox yanking its comedy "Happy Hour" caused a headache for CTV, but otherwise, no new U.S. dramas falling off sharply -- or breaking out -- augurs well as Canadians continue sampling new U.S. serial or procedural dramas this week and next.

"People are finding their way," Williams said. "We're waiting to see where they come back to after Week 1 and 2."

The top-rated new U.S. show here so far is CBS' "Smith," which drew 1.37 million viewers for CTV in a nonsimulcast slot Monday night and easily fought back competition from the premiere of Fox's "Vanished" on Global Television.

Not working as well for CTV was its buzz NBC show "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," which drew 1.2 million viewers for its debut Sept. 24 after a generous "Desperate Housewives" lead-in. In its second week, "Studio 60" dropped to 1.1 million. Close behind is ABC's "Brothers and Sisters," bowing on Global Television with 1.05 million viewers.

And while CTV did well last week with ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" on Thursday nights, following last season's Sunday-night stand, last week's 1.9 million viewership was plagued by a satellite feed glitch that caused the second episode of the new season to air last week, rather than the first episode, as planned.

Ongoing dramas account for the bulk of viewership in Canadian primetime, and virtually all are from the U.S.

Given strengthening audience bases for such returning series as "Criminal Minds" and "House," CTV's Boyce said the key to continuing success for U.S. series on Canadian TV is viewer loyalty.

She recalled "Housewives" and "Lost" not being instant hits when they bowed in Canadian primetime. And ABC's "Grey's" became a sleeper hit for her network only after starting out as a midseason replacement.

The bottom line for Boyce is retaining a mix of U.S. shows, from such long-standing proven hits as the "CSI" and "Law and Order" franchises to rookie performers and strong second-year contenders that promise growth.
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