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'Fringe' enjoys ratings binge

September 17, 2008 | 12:27 pm

Usually, a TV series loses viewers after the premiere episode, starting the inevitable drift down to whatever its typical audience is going to be. But Fox's "Fringe" is proving to be a big exception.

Last week, J.J. Abrams' latest thriller launched with a less-than-spectacular 9.1 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Given Fox's heavy promotion of the costly series, some TV insiders were already making dire predictions about the show's future. But on Tuesday, "Fringe" roared back with 13.4 million viewers -- a 47% increase, the biggest second-episode jump for any network series since at least 1991, according to Fox -- suggesting that it may be difficult indeed to make solid predictions about this post-strike season.

The key factor behind the "Fringe" surge was the Season 5 premiere of "House," which was the night's most-watched program, with 14.4 million viewers. Last week, "Fringe" had premiered without any lead-in, which often poses a challenge for a new program. This week, though, "Fringe" held on to a healthy 90% of the "House" audience, which suggests that most viewers liked the new Abrams show once they sampled it.

Meanwhile, The CW's teen soap "90210" held up well in the competitive 8 p.m. hour, improving last week's result by 6% among its target women aged 18-34 audience (3.3 rating/10 share), according to early data. And NBC's two-hour Season 6 premiere of "The Biggest Loser," with 7.8 million total viewers, was on par with the series' previous fall launches.

But all the competition took a heavy toll on the 90-minute season finale of ABC's summer hit "Wipeout," which limped across the finish line with an average of 5.9 million viewers.

-Scott Collins