08/06/2002 at 01:00 AM EDT
New York Times TV critic Caryn James may call it a "cruel joke of a reality series," but Sunday night's premiere of E! Entertainment Television's "The Anna Nicole Show" premiered to record ratings numbers, says the Hollywood Reporter. In fact, the half-hour peek inside the life of the former Playboy Playmate, 34, who married well (if briefly, to a very old, very rich man, oilman J. Howard Marshall II, who died in 1995 at the age of 90), outperformed the debut episode of MTV's "The Osbournes," the series that inspired "The Anna Nicole Show" to begin with. Smith, her black poodle named Sugar Pie and Smith's pink-haired assistant posted a 5.5 overnight rating in Nielsen Media Research's 55 metered markets, making it eligible to rank as the highest-rated series premiere on basic cable, says the Reporter. (Each ratings point represents 1,055,000 households.) By comparison, Ozzy and the gang on "The Osbournes" premiered to a 2.8 household rating last spring. The trade paper notes that the ratings for "Anna Nicole" are the highest ever for an E! show, including the cable channel's trademark pre-Oscar coverage (starring the network's staples, Joan and Melissa Rivers), and most popular with Smith's native Texas crowd, with Houston ranking as the top market with a 9.7 rating. Los Angeles averaged an 8.7, while New York posted a 6.6. In her look at the latest entry in the reality series game, Times critic James calls the show "freakish," with most of its jokes at Smith's expense.