Viewers are falling hard for a group of Desperate Housewives.
An estimated 24.9 million of them tuned in last Sunday night for ABC's red-hot drama, giving the new series its largest audience yet. It was also the biggest audience for any scripted show on ABC since the May 2000 farewell episode of Michael J. Fox on Spin City.
No wonder. During the course of an hour, viewers got to see:
Felicity Huffman's Lynette Scavo tangle with a fellow parent at her sons' upscale school.
Eva Longoria's Gabrielle Solis ditch her mother-in-law at a casino to be with her boytoy.
And Marcia Cross' Bree Van De Kamp drop a fur coat to reveal her wearing red lingerie.
"I honestly think Desperate Housewives is one of those shows that taps into the sentiment ordinary Americans feel," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, who analyzes viewing patterns for ad-buyer Initiative Media. "It's slightly over the edge of what the normal person would do, but it's certainly plausible."
Indeed, Desperate Housewives has connected with viewers in a way no ABC drama has in a decade and in a way few scripted shows have since reality TV hit big. (The show takes a holiday tonight, as ABC broadcasts the American Music Awards. It returns next Sunday at 9 p.m.)
To that end, the upward viewing trend for Desperate Housewives mirrors that of early Survivor and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Each generated extensive watercooler chatter as folks discussed the previous night's show.
"The best television shows have always had those water-cooler moments," said executive producer Michael Edelstein, citing Seinfeld, ER and Sex and the City.
Fan Web sites are flooded each night after the end of the show with thoughts on plotlines, the characters and the future.
"You start to feel like you have a relationship and a responsibility with the audience," Edelstein said.
He's also quick to note that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which airs before Desperate Housewives, had a huge audience Sunday, too, helping drive viewers to the drama.
It should be noted that CBS's CSI remains the most-watched show this season and had more than 30 million viewers last week. But Desperate Housewives is rapidly climbing in the rankings.
"It's not about the angst of young life, it's about the angst of real life," Koerner said. "It's figuring out where you are in terms of the choices you've already made. It's thirtysomething, but more domestic."