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For ABC, it could be worse

It doesn't have a Friends or a West Wing or a CSI: Miami, but, after three weeks, ABC, while still not healthy, is at least breathing regularly on Tuesday nights.

The network is acknowledging problem spots—Push, Nevada on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET, That Was Then on Fridays at 9 p.m.—but, in the third week of new-season ratings, ABC showed strong numbers Saturday through Wednesday, and that's likely more than even the network expected.

ABC's strategy to rebuild Tuesday night appears to be working, with John Ritter's 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter winning adults 18-49 and 25-54 last week and providing a strong lead-in to According to Jim, Life With Bonnie and Less Than Perfect. Veteran NYPD Blue remains solid, winning adults 18-49 and 25-54. ABC won adults 18-49 and 25-54 for the night, tied for first with NBC in 18-34 and took second in households.

"We are very, very hopeful," says ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne. "What we've set out to do this season was to try to build a few tent poles for the network so that, by next fall, we have a strong enough group of shows to be able to go into the new season aggressively. We are very happy with the Tuesday lineup."

Stacey Koerner, SVP, director of research at Initiative Media, notes, "It's somewhat of a resurgence of the comedy format for the lineup to be doing as well as it is, and a lot of that comes from the John Ritter show, clearly. I'd say they are looking better than last year."

That's no big achievement. Last year, ABC's spectacular decline was pegged to a disastrous Tuesday-night lineup that included What About Joan and Bob Patterson. In previous years, Tuesday night was home to some of its most successful shows, including Home Improvement and Roseanne. Things might change when baseball season is over and Fox's comedies return to Tuesday, particularly That '70s Show.

ABC also has gotten a pleasant surprise on Wednesday night, with Damon Wayans's My Wife and Kids winning its 8 p.m. ET time period for the past two weeks.

"On Wednesday night, My Wife and Kids has been able to come out from what could have been a closer situation [vs. Fox's The Bernie Mac Show] and do extremely well," says Bill Carroll, vice president, director of programming, Katz Television Group.

The second-season premiere of George Lopez at 8:30 p.m. last Wednesday took second in households and won in 18-49, 18-34 and 25-54. At 9 p.m., The Bachelor 2 bested CBS's Amazing Race 3, even though everyone lost to NBC's West Wing. The night ended on a down note for ABC, with MDs at 10 p.m. losing to CBS's Presidio Med, though both were soundly beaten by the 13th-season premiere of NBC's Law & Order.

For the week ended Sept. 29, CBS won in households at 9.1 rating/15 share, followed by NBC 8.9/15, ABC 6.6/11, Fox 4.5/07, WB 2.8/4 and UPN 2.6/4. In the adults 18-49 derby, NBC won with a 5.4/15, followed by CBS with 4.6/12, ABC 4.5/11, Fox 2.7/6, WB 2.2/7 and UPN 1.7/5.