By Stephen M. Silverman
December 04, 2003 01:00 PM

Critics retched but viewers watched Tuesday night, as Paris Hilton and her pal Nicole Richie attracted some 13 million viewers for their new FOX reality series, “The Simple Life.”

The show, which plops the two Beverly Hills party girls onto an Arkansas farm, was second to CBS’s “JAG” in the time slot, according to Nielsen Media Research. But the figures also show that “Simple” was the most-watched program of the night among young viewers, nearly doubly the ratings for what FOX previously averaged in that timeslot.

The show no doubt was helped by the very public saga of a pirated three-year-old video tape, which recently made the rounds on the Internet showing Hilton engaged in various sex acts with ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon.

The exposure of the tape, in fact, has forced hotel heiress Hilton, 22, to become something of a recluse, canceling TV promotional appearances for her new program (including one with a now-disgruntled David Letterman). She did, however, appear at a FOX party for her show on Tuesday in L.A., at the nightspot Bliss — though she was reportedly seen and not heard, reports USA Today.

“She’s been very down about” the situation surrounding the tape, Hilton’s aunt, Kyle Richards, tells the newspaper.

In other ratings news, CBS’s embattled “The Reagans,” which the network ended up selling to the Showtime because of criticism of its content, debuted to disappointing ratings when it was shown on the cable network: 1.2 million total viewers. Showtime, which traditionally declines to release its ratings, would not confirm the figure to the Hollywood Reporter.

On another cable network, Bravo earned respectable ratings with the series premiere of “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” which drew 1.6 million viewers Tuesday (celebrity players included Ben Affleck). It presumably got some help from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” which preceded it and reportedly saw a 20 percent leap in its audience aged 18-49.