Seven’s much hyped new series Desperate Housewives debuted last night drawing large crowds away from rival networks.

Two point four eight four million people.

Repeat, 2.484 million people watched the new Seven network series, Desperate Housewives last night. That’s the biggest debut audience for a new series for years.

It equalled some of the audiences for the one-off tennis matches involving Lleyton Hewitt and Alicia Molik last week and was 600,000 more than Seven’s hit from last year, Dancing with the Stars.

It squashed everything. A first run episode of Nine’s Cold Case, National Nine News and the new Nine variety program, Starstruck, which did very well in its own right with 1.58 million viewers.

The attempt by Nine to draw viewers from Seven at 8.30pm when Housewives was due to start failed. Starstruck ran well past its 8.30pm finish, but Seven allowed the first new episode for 2005 of The Great Outdoors to overrun also. It attracted a handy 1.186 million (but was buried by Starstruck).

When Desperate Housewives started on Seven, Nine was in an advertising break, making switching networks much easier.

Now Seven has great hopes for the debut of Lost on Thursday evening, another of its US shows that was greatly promoted during the Australian Open Tennis broadcasts.

The huge numbers for Housewives were echoed in the five main markets. It was the most watched program in Sydney with 730,434 viewers, a massive 821,081 in Melbourne (are they more “desperate” down south?), 369,132 in Brisbane, 240,317 in Adelaide and a big 323,168 in Perth. In each market it was by far the most popular program.

Starstruck for Nine debuted well, with 1.581 million viewers. A good start. Not of Idol proportions, but seeing it’s a different sort of show (but lacking in originality of performance), the audiences numbers would have been gratifying for what is essentially a ‘stopper’ program for the X-Factor on Ten from next week.

Nine News also did well, with 1.412 million people, which was around 118,000 in front of Seven News.

More worrying for Nine was the easy beating Seven’s Today Tonight administered to A Current Affair, thanks to a large turn-off of viewers.

TT pulled 1.373 million viewers, a lift of almost 80,000 on Seven news. But ACA was watched by 1.236 million, down a massive 176,000 people from the 6 pm News.

ACA won in Sydney and Melbourne, but lost heavily in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, so the loss was mitigated to some extent.

Desperate Housewives figures show that it had 52% of the available viewers between 8.30pm to 9.30pm. It peaked at 2.65 million viewers. It had more than 50% across all demographics, with big shares in the 16 to 24, 25 to 39 and 16 to 39 and 18 to 49 age groups.

In other words, it delivered for Seven across the entire audience (unlike Australian Idol which skews heavily to the 16 to 39).

But this was the first episode, coming 24 hours after extensive promotion in the massive audience for the men’s final of the Australian tennis Open.

From Next Monday Seven could expect a dip or easing in the audience and it will be three weeks or so before it settles down into a steady pattern.

But it has changed the dynamics of the Australian TV market for the time being. If Lost debuts anywhere near as well and with these two high rating programs, plus good efforts by Dancing with the Stars and some lesser programs, Seven will put enormous pressure on Nine in particular.

The benefit from Housewives was seen in the performance by the mid-rating Crossing Jordan law series on Seven. It attracted more than a million viewers from 9.30pm to 11.30pm, easily beating the Allan Border Medal telecast on Nine which was watched by around 779,000 people.

The ABC was squashed by the battle between Nine and Seven last night. It is going to be a tough few weeks for the national broadcaster.

Seven won the night with a 32.7% share to Nine with 28.9%, Ten back on 20.5%, the ABC down on 12.5% and SBS with 5.5%.

After that win, Seven leads the week with a 44.5% share, thanks to the good performance by the tennis on Sunday.

Nine won all five capital city markets with a 30% plus share. Nine should do well tonight and Wednesday and if Lost does well Thursday, Seven should win the win. That would make it winning the last three weeks of non-ratings.

But because of its aggressive programming and the response of Nine and Ten, this is the first non-week of official ratings.

CRIKEY: The Australian commercial television industry has just become much more competitive and interesting business. For the Nine Network, its worst nightmares have been realised, its bitter rival, Seven has a monster ratings hit on its hands which it hasn’t abused.

The ratings monster in its schedule means that when coupled with the Idol, Big Brother and others in the Ten Network’s schedule this year, Nine will be under fire from both sides.

It will be a state of affairs the current management at Nine hasn’t experienced since the changes started in 2002.

It is going to get very ugly this year.