'Dateline,' 'SVU' also have strong Friday

The return of NBC’s “Providence” had CBS’ “The Fugitive” running for cover Friday night, highlighting a strong night for the Peacock.

According to preliminary nationals from Nielsen, while the numbers for “Providence” (12.7 million, 4.1/14 in adults 18-49) were down vs. its premiere a year ago (14.5m, 5.0/18), they were enough to easily top Eye rookie “The Fugitive” (9.3m, 2.6/9), which lost about 20% of its aud week-to-week. “The Fugitive” is still delivering better scores than CBS was getting in the hour a year ago, but those advantages are becoming slimmer by the week.

NBC, which had aired baseball on the first two Fridays of the season, also received strong premiere ratings from “Dateline” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Net won the night in viewers, adults 18-49 and 25-54, with CBS second in each.

“Dateline” (4.2/13) delivered its best 18-49 rating since March despite finishing behind still-strong CBS rookie drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (4.4/13). “Law & Order: SVU” delivered its best 18-49 rating (prelim 5.1/16) since February.

Compared with its Friday premieres of last season, NBC was up 6% in viewers and 8% in 18-49, but it was actually down slightly from 8-10. Its big gains came at 10, where “SVU” bested last season’s preem of “Cold Feet” (3.8/12) by 34%.

CBS, which won the first two Fridays of the season, must now hope that the 8 p.m. “Fugitive”/”Providence” gap closes now that the “Providence” premiere has passed. Tim Daly starrer, which lost a good chunk of its core women 25-54 audience to “Providence,” will have to fare better among male demos if its numbers are going to improve. In its third week out, it placed third in men 18-49 (tied with ABC) and fourth in men 18-34.

Elsewhere Friday, ABC’s 8-10 p.m. comedy block averaged a 2.4 in 18-49, down from a 3.3 on premiere night and a 3.0 in Week 2. “Two Guys and a Girl” again led the way (2.6/9).

At Fox, first-year drama “Freakylinks” improved week-to-week by 12% in adults 18-49 (to prelim 2.8/8) and won its hour in adults 18-34 and men 18-34 — and that’s despite the lowest scores in three weeks for lead-in “Police Videos” (prelim 3.6/12 in A18-49).

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