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Sonny Ratings for Nick, Jessica

Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson got viewers, babe.

The would-be Sonny & Cher for the 21st century made a solid claim to the title Sunday, hooking 11.5 million viewers with their ABC special/ode to '70s kitsch.

The Nick & Jessica Variety Hour, featuring reality TV's favorite newlyweds singing, dancing and hobnobbing with Cincinnati Reds great Johnny Bench, ranked 17th for the TV week ended Sunday, per Nielsen Media Research.

For the most part, critics were not among the show's fans.

The Washington Post's Tom Shales liked Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy's duet on "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart" but not much else. The New York Daily News' David Bianculli called the show a blatant and shameless rip-off of you-know-which-couple's '70s hit show. Of course, Bianculli said the rip-off was so blatant, shameless and complete "that [Nick & Jessica] just might work."

No word from ABC yet on whether Variety Hour will be turned into Seasonal Variety Special. A full-fledged weekly series seems out of the picture. In addition to their MTV gig, Newlyweds, Lachey and Simpson are each booked to star in a prospective ABC sitcom.

Johnny Bench, meanwhile, presumably is fielding any and all offers.

Elsewhere:

Backup New York Giants quarterback Jesse Palmer made passes in front of 11.1 million (20th place) on the two-hour, fifth-season premiere of ABC's The Bachelor. That's slightly up from the season-three opener with Andrew Firestone; slightly down from the season-four opener with Bob Guiney.
Fox's The Swan, airing opposite The Bachelor in the 9 p.m., Wednesday hour, took it to the dating show--eighth place, 15 million. Of course, the makeover-meets-beauty-pageant hybrid got a big assist from its lead-in, the results episode of American Idol (fourth place, 20.6 million).
Tuesday's competition episode of Idol, in which John Stevens apparently didn't yet sing quite badly enough to be finally be booted, was the week's most-tolerated show--23.5 million, first place.
NBC's The Apprentice made its strongest bid yet to topple Idol as TV's top dog, with 22 million (second place) tuning in to watch Bill Rancic and Kwame Jackson prepare for this week's final battle.
The Janet Jackson-hosted Saturday Night Live scored the NBC late-night show's highest overnight ratings in more than a year.
The finale of NBC's Average Joe: Adam Returns did, well, average--21st place, 10.9 million.
A Saturday night repeat broadcast of The Whole Nine Yards on CBS was watched by more couch potatoes--7.5 million (50th place)--than its sequel, The Whole Ten Yards, was watched by movie fans last weekend.
ABC showed hope and faith in Hope & Faith, renewing the freshman sitcom for a second season, despite another despairing showing--57th place, 6.8 million.
ABC's Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital flatlined in its 9 p.m., Tuesday tryout--85th place, 3.7 million.
The telecast of the NCAA men's hoops final, in which the University of Connecticut downed Georgia Tech, fell to all-time low ratings for CBS, but still shot its way into the top 10 shows--seventh place, 17.1 million.

Overall, CBS, led by Survivor: All-Stars (third place, 20.8 million), won the week among total viewers, averaging 11 million. NBC, led by The Apprentice, won the week among viewers aged 18 to 49.

Despite Idol's dominance, Fox ran third in viewers (8.6 million) and the coolest of all demos. Despite landing four shows in the Top 20, ABC ran fourth in both categories, averaging 7.7 million viewers.

Among the netlets, the WB edged UPN, 2.7 million to 2.66 million.

Here's a rundown of the 10 most-watched shows for the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research:

1. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 23.5 million
2. The Apprentice, NBC, 22 million
3. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 20.8 million
4. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 20.6 million
5. ER, NBC, 20 million
6. CSI, CBS, 19.5 million
7. NCAA Men's Basketball Championship (UConn v. Georgia Tech), CBS, 17.1 million
8. The Swan, Fox, 15 million
9. Friends, NBC, 13.783 million
10. Without a Trace, CBS, 13.781 million

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