Lead by 'Will,' Peacock comedies rule the night

With “Will & Grace” in the anchor spot, NBC’s Thursday lineup has launched a new season in its typical dominant fashion, topping the combined demo score of the five other nets.

The Emmy-winning comedy “Will” came out of the chute well, according to Nielsen, improving on “Frasier’s” year-ago preem in the slot in adults 18-49 despite drawing viewer fewers.

That’s a tradeoff NBC will take, as it sees the younger-skewing, gay-themed laffer as a key comedy for future years of “Must-See TV” as well as the net’s best way to siphon off young adults from ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Sure enough, the Peacock said, its Thursday median age with “Will” as the anchor dropped to 38.1 from 40.0 a year ago. “Will” itself (36.1) was five years younger than “Frasier” (41.1).

Last season, only the season finale of “Frasier” delivered a bigger 18-49 rating during the Thursday 9 o’clock half-hour than “Will’s” premiere (13.4) on Thursday.

CBS scores

Elsewhere on the weekend, CBS looked good again with its quartet of new Friday and Saturday dramas, with “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “The District” again leading the way.

As for Thursday, year-to-year comparisons are tricky for all nets since this season’s first full Thursday included key programming that did not air a year ago — baseball on Fox, “Millionaire” on ABC and “ER” on NBC. The Peacock also double-pumped new segs of “Friends” this year, while “Jesse” aired in the 8:30 slot last season.

That being said, the 8 p.m. “Friends” (25.54 million, 13.7/38 in A18-49) and “ER” (29.93m, 15.4/38) were both down slightly vs. last season’s premiere nights, while “Will & Grace” (24.32m, 13.4/32) gained 13% on “Frasier’s” bow in adults 18-49 but was down 3% in viewers. But “Will” got a nice boost from the 8:30 “Friends,” (15.4/39 in A18-49), which was considerably better than last season’s “Jesse” score (9.6/27).

‘Shoot’ on target

At 9:30, “Just Shoot Me’s” 85% retention of “Will” in 18-49 (11.3 vs. 13.4) was better than the 77% for “Stark Raving Mad” following the season preem of “Frasier” last season but below the 90% hold that “Stark” managed when “ER” bowed.

NBC’s comedies combined to easily top “Millionaire” in adults 18-49 (12.4/30 vs. 4.8/11) and also won in viewers (22.30m vs. 18.02m).

“Millionaire” helped ABC deliver solid gains vs. last season’s first Thursday with a full lineup (which included “Wasteland” at 9) — up 45% in viewers and 26% in adults 18-49.

CBS’ “48 Hours” looked good in its new timeslot, delivering a better 18-49 score (3.0/8) than any series managed in the slot last season. Of course, newsmag’s timeslot trade with the older-skewing “Diagnosis Murder” means the net is taking a demo hit at 10 with the drama (1.6/4 in A18-49).

At 9, “City of Angels” (2.5/6 in A18-49) took advantage of the stronger lead-in to top 12 of the net’s last 13 scores in the hour last season in the demo. Medical drama grew by 23% in its second half-hour (2.7 from 2.2).

‘Smackdown’ looks up

UPN’s “WWF Smackdown” finished second in adults 18-34 (3.6/10) and also pinned down its best-ever score in men 25-54 (3.7/9).

Opposite the big “Friends” episodes, the WB’s “Gilmore Girls” was down week-to-week but did see an increase in female teens (up 13% to 5.1/17), one of the weblet’s key demos.

According to prelim nationals for Friday, CBS won the night in viewers (prelim 13.8 million), adults 18-49 (4.2/14) and adults 25-54 (5.6/16) for the second straight week.

“CSI” (15.8m, 4.9/16 in A18-49) was down just 9% in 18-49 vs. a week ago (fast nationals) and its second-week score was a strong 58% better than what “Now and Again” notched with its second week a year ago.

“The Fugitive” (prelim 12.0 million, 3.2/12 in A18-49) was also down 9% vs. its premiere fast-national ratings in adults 18-49 but was up a tick in adults 18-34 (2.3 vs. 2.2). Action drama, whose first two weeks’ ratings have been unspectacular, must brace for this week’s season preem of timeslot winner “Providence” on NBC.

ABC tied NBC (with baseball) for second on the night in adults 18-49 (3.4/11), led by “20/20″ (4.1/12). Net’s “Madigan Man” didn’t improve on its “Norm” lead-in as it did a week ago (both 3.1/10) but it did gain week-to-week by 11% in adults 18-34 (3.1/12 vs. 2.8/11).

Fox’s “Freakylinks” (5.0m, 2.6/8 in A18-49) dropped by 25% week-to-week, but another first-place 18-49 finish at 8 for “Police Videos” at 8 kept the net just behind ABC and NBC on the night (3.2/11). Net execs must be pleased with their fall fortunes, though, as “Freakylinks” is the only hour on its two nights to be launched (Tuesday and Friday) that hasn’t really clicked.

Beauty rules

ABC took Saturday with the “Miss America Pageant” (prelim 12.4 million, 3.8/12 in A18-49) although it was down across the board from a year ago.

In its second outing, CBS’ “The District” placed a solid second to “Miss America” in both viewers (13.0m) and adults 18-49 (3.7/11).The Eye was up in adults 18-49 (3.1 vs. 3.0) vs. the second Saturday a year ago, which didn’t feature the pageant or baseball.

Saturday reality staples “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” helped Fox take second in adults 18-49 (3.5/11), up from last year’s 3.3/10 for Week 2.

Ratings for baseball’s league championship series remain well below last season’s pace. Thursday’s Game 2 of the NLCS (Mets-Cardinals) posted a 7.0/12 in homes and a 3.5/10 in adults 18-49 — down from last year’s 10.4/18 and 5.5/16 for Game 2 of the Yankees-Red Sox ALCS on Fox.

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