"Lost" crashed in the ratings this week, hitting an all-time low for a new episode.
ABC's drama about plane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island drew an estimated 12.8 million viewers Wednesday, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen Media Research. That's well off the peak of more than 20 million for the drama that became an instant sensation when it debuted in September 2004.
ABC has worked hard to try to protect a show that helped turn the network's fortunes around, moving it to 10 p.m. EST Wednesday this year to steer clear of Fox's blockbuster "American Idol" and CBS's increasingly strong "Criminal Minds."
After "Lost" fans complained about reruns interrupting the show's serial flow last season, the network tried an experiment: It split the current season in two, airing six episodes before an extended break and then resuming with 16 additional episodes.
The show's February 7 return was heavily promoted and drew nearly 14.5 million viewers. But the bounce didn't last, with the show slumping this week.
Although protected from top-rated "American Idol" in its new time 10 p.m. time slot, "Lost" now has the disadvantage of trying to draw viewers at an hour when fewer people are watching television. This Wednesday, Valentine's Day put a 7 percent dent in overall TV viewership.
In the show's defense, ABC noted that it beat the competition among the advertiser-favored young adult crowd, drawing 7.3 million viewers age 18 to 49 compared to the 5.8 million that tuned in to CBS' "CSI: New York."
"Lost" also handed ABC nearly 4 million more viewers in the time slot compared to last year, when short-lived drama "Invasion" aired, the network said.
But there's no question that "Lost," once riding big ratings, buzz and cachet, has lost significant ground.
Some fans and critics complain that the story has gotten confusing and unsatisfying. The show, named best drama at the 2005 Emmy Awards, was shut out at the 2006 ceremony.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.