West Wing Premiere Bows Big

October 6, 2000 -- NBC's The West Wing's two-hour season premiere Wednesday night had a record 25 million viewers casting their votes for the Emmy-winning White House drama.

The season opener ended last May's cliffhanger, in which assassins' bullets rang out, leaving viewers asking, "Who's been hit?" The answer: President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), who'll both survive the new season, apparently.

Besides the suspenseful plot, it didn't hurt that the show is fresh off a record win of nine Emmys in one year. Also helping was NBC's heavy promotion of Wing during its 17-day coverage of the Olympics, and that the political drama is increasingly topical in this election year.

According to Nielsen, the first Wednesday of the season also saw solid debut numbers for Aaron Spelling's rookie NBC soap Titans, a solid second-place finish for the Country Music Association Awards on CBS, a mixed performance from ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on its new night, and very strong premiere numbers for the final season of UPN's Star Trek Voyager.

Airing at 8 p.m., the steamy primetime soap Titans, starring vampy Yasmine Bleeth, got hump night off to a good start for NBC, besting last season's performance of Dateline by 37 percent in the key 18-49 demographic. Titans matched the newsmagazine in terms of number of viewers, however (11.6 million).

Airing opposite Titans, meanwhile, Millionaire actually drew 9 percent less of the 18-49 crowd on its new night than the comedies Two Guys and a Girl and Norm averaged in the slot a year ago, but the show made up for it by drawing 68 percent more total viewers (19.02 million vs. 11.3 million).

Millionaire's lead-in helped The Drew Carey Show attract its largest audience for an ABC season premiere (13.61 million) in four years. It was also the network's largest Wednesday premiere audience (13.48 million) in four years.

The WB's Dawson's Creek maintained its premiere-week rating from a year ago among adults 18-49, despite dropping by 17 percent in viewers (4.98 million vs. 6 million). The series, which was the focal point of the network's promotional push during the summer, had its best rating among women 18-34 in two years.

That led into Felicity, which held a so-so 66 percent of its Dawson's lead-in among adults 18-34, but did post its best numbers for a Wednesday episode in all-female demographics. Reuters contributed to this story.