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ABC's 'Private Practice:' Prognosis brightens as ratings climb

February 6, 2009 |  1:44 pm

Last year, some of us who cover TV were ready to write off "Private Practice," the "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff starring Kate Walsh. The network had sandwiched the show between two struggling dramas, "Pushing Daisies" and "Dirty Sexy Money." Early ratings were disappointing, and then the writers strike ended up kicking the series off the air for nearly a year. Not the best start for any show.

But "Private Practice" has been on the mend since ABC moved the show to 10 p.m. Thursdays this season, right behind "Grey's," where it seemed to belong in the first place. This week, the show zoomed to its best-ever ratings in the ad-friendly adults ages 18 to 49 demographic (5.3 rating/14 share; 13 million viewers overall), according to early data from Nielsen Media Research, dominating the slot against NBC's soon-to-end "ER" (7.3 million) and a repeat of CBS' "Eleventh Hour" (7.7 million). In fact, "Practice's" demo rating was only half a rating point less than "Grey's" this week. 

Some of the momentum is due to intertwined storylines that for the next few episodes will see cast members traveling back and forth beween the two medical dramas.

"The show on our schedule it was most compatible with was 'Grey's Anatomy,' obviously," ABC scheduling chief Jeff Bader said of "Private Practice." "And we're starting to see this in the ratings.

"We just need to get people to come sample the show again," he added. "The show has changed. We feel it's gotten better."

The stakes are high because TV programmers are chasing ad dollars from movie studios and other heavy spenders on Thursday nights. NBC and CBS have mostly dominated the night for years, but this week ABC and Fox won in both young adults and among all viewers. It may be a sign of things to come.

-- Scott Collins