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Subdued Thursday openers

Morning Ratings Flash - Rick Kissell

NBC has defeated CBS in key demos on the opening Thursday of the season, a night that saw year-to-year declines for top-rated shows like “Friends,” “CSI” and “ER.” NBC was down roughly 17% vs. its premiere Thursday of a year ago while CBS was off 13%, helping the Eye close the gap on this key night.

It was also a virtual tie in overall total viewers, with NBC slightly ahead.

According to preliminary nationals from Nielsen, NBC’s “Friends” (11.5/33 in adults 18-49, 23 million viewers overall) was the evening’s top program with its 45-minute premiere, although the comedy showed steep year-to-year declines, including roughly 30% in 18-49. “Will & Grace” (10.3/26 in adults 18-49, 20 million viewers overall) defeated its combined “Survivor”-“CSI” competish in 18-49 and held up a bit better in year-to-year comparisons. At 9:30, new laffer “Coupling” (8.0/20 in adults 18-49, 15.7 million viewers overall) delivered mediocre numbers, retaining less of its “Will” lead-in than last season’s “Good Morning Miami” and falling well behind CBS drama “CSI” in 18-49.

At 10, although “ER” won (10.4/27 in adults 18-49, 22.8 million viewers overall), it was down about 20% from last year’s opener while CBS drama rival “Without a Trace” (5.8/15 in adults 18-49, 17 million viewers overall) was flat in the demo.

CBS was paced by a strong delivery at 9 for “CSI” (9.7/24 in adults 18-49, 26.6 million viewers overall), which was the evening’s most-watched program overall despite a projected 15% dropoff year-to-year. “Survivor: Pearl Islands” (7.2/20 in adults 18-49, 19.3 million viewers overall) was a competitive second from 8 to 9, but it too was off about 15%. The perf by “Trace” at 10 is all the more impressive given the declines by “Survivor” and “CSI.”

ABC was a distant third in 18-49, led by “Primetime” at 10 (2.8/7 in adults 18-49, 7.5 million viewers overall) and “Extreme Makeover” at 9 (2.6/6 in adults 18-49, 6.9 million viewers overall). At 8, new drama “Threat Matrix” (1.6/5 in adults 18-49, 6.6 million viewers overall) was down about 25% from its soft premiere of a week earlier.

Fox ran fourth with a two-hour episode of “Temptation Island.”

Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: NBC, 10.3/27; CBS, 7.6/20; ABC, 2.3/6; Fox, 1.9/5.

In total viewers: NBC, 21.2 million; CBS, 21.0 million; ABC, 7.0 million; Fox, 4.2 million.

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