But only Heche and Barbara Walters came away with the strongest ratings win, as CBS and NBC's much-hyped reality battle between The Amazing Race and Lost ended in a near dead heat, with CBS narrowly winning.
Walters' 20/20 interview with Anne Heche pulled in 13.3 million viewers, according to final Nielsen numbers, the best performance of the night. The newsmagazine faced little competition from CBS' 48 Hours and NBC's repeat of Law & Order. But regardless, it marked a healthy start for Walters, whose 20/20 has been pushed this season from its longtime Friday slot to Wednesday nights at 10 p.m.
NBC's Lost battle with CBS was much bloodier. The Survivor network's latest adventure, The Amazing Race, sent 11 teams on a journey around the world in a quest for $1 million. It was the more critically acclaimed of the two shows, featuring breathtaking scenery alongside bickering couples, a well-dressed pair of gay partners and two bald New Yawk frat boys. (Key quote of the night: "Swing, you fat bastard!")
The 9 p.m. series eked out a viewer victory against the final episode of NBC's summer hit Fear Factor, drawing 11.83 million viewers to Fear Factor's 11.81 million. More importantly to CBS, The Amazing Race managed to knock Fear Factor down 23 percent from its average summer draw.
An hour earlier, NBC's new series Lost, which drops teams into the middle of nowhere as they try to make their way back to the Statue of Liberty, scored 9.4 million viewers. But overall, the series couldn't top a special Wednesday 8 p.m. edition of CBS' surprise late-summer comeback hit Big Brother 2, which averaged 11 million viewers.
Both networks were in heavy spin mode Thursday morning. NBC sniffed that it never really had high expectations for Lost, while CBS said its reality block marked a vast improvement over its premiere of the CBS Wednesday Movie last season. Compared to last year, The Amazing Race also posted a 79 percent jump in viewership among adults 18-49, the demographic coveted by advertisers.
But the race, of course, is just beginning.
(UPDATED 9/7/01 at 1:00 p.m. PT)