NEW YORK (AP) – Buoyed by football and its suddenly potent Sunday lineup, ABC was the nation’s most popular network for the first time this season and had its best ratings week in four years.

A gripping National Football League playoff game between the New York Jets and San Diego Chargers drew 25.8 million viewers Saturday, normally a night of light TV viewing. And though the game was a blowout, the USC-Oklahoma national college football championship Tuesday was seen by 21.4 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“Desperate Housewives” (25.2 million) returned with an original episode and helped the shows before and after it. “Boston Legal” scored a series high with Candice Bergen’s addition to the cast and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” has blossomed into a top 10 show.

The heavily promoted “Alias” hit the top 20 with its season premiere.

and “Lost” drew 21.6 million viewers, Nielsen said.

There were some mixed results for other midseason entries. NBC’s supernatural “Medium” did well, with 16.1 million viewers for its debut, while the comedy “Committed” was far less impressive.

Normally sure CBS had two missteps. The search for a “new Martha Stewart” on “Wickedly Perfect” had only 9.4 million viewers, less than half of what “Survivor” usually drew in the same Thursday time slot. Another reality show, “The Will,” had a paltry 4.2 million viewers Saturday.

Sunday night offered good news for Fox – “24” had its biggest audience ever for its season opener.

For the week, ABC averaged 15.9 million viewers (10 rating, 16 share), and easily won among viewers aged 18 to 49. CBS had 12 million viewers (7.9, 12), NBC 10.4 million (6.9, 11), Fox 8.7 million (5.4, 8), UPN 3.2 million (2.2, 3), the WB 2.8 million (1.9, 3) and Pax TV 800,000 viewers (1.0, 2)

NBC’s “Nightly News,” won the evening news ratings race, averaging 12.1 million viewers (8.4, 15). ABC’s “World News Tonight” had 10.8 million viewers (7.6, 14) and the “CBS Evening News” 8.6 million (4.8, 10).

A ratings point represents 1,096,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 109.6 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Jan. 3-9, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships:

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 28.9 million; AFC Playoff Game: N.Y. Jets at San Diego, ABC, 25.8 million; “Desperate Housewives,” ABC, 25.2 million; “Without a Trace,” CBS, 23.8 million; “AFC/NFC Showcase,” ABC, 23 million; “Lost, ABC, 21.6 million; Orange Bowl: USC vs. Oklahoma, ABC, 21.4 million; “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” ABC, 20 million; “Wildcard Post Game Show,” Fox, 19.5 million; “Everybody Loves Raymond,” CBS, 18.8 million.



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