NBC's 'Apprentice' up; 'Joey's' strong

The new TV season kicks off tonight, but some of Thursday’s heavyweight vets were already in midseason form last week, with strong ratings for the early preems of vets “Will & Grace” on NBC and “Survivor” on CBS.

And much like last season, the infusion of more firstrun programming on the night seemed to energize the lineups of both nets: The Peacock’s new laffer “Joey” looked good in week two and “The Apprentice” spiked up in its second week, while a repeat of the Eye’s “CSI” was surprisingly potent.

According to Nielsen nationals for Thursday, “Survivor: Vanuatu” won the 8 o’clock hour with its premiere (7.8/22 in 18-49, 20.06 million viewers overall). The reality adventure series doesn’t appear to be slowing down even as it launches its ninth edition.

“Survivor” was on par with last year’s premiere, which didn’t have to face firstrun NBC comedies.

The Peacock also did well in the hour with “Joey” (7.0/20 in 18-49, 15.37m from 8 to 8:36) and the seventh-season opener of “Will & Grace” (8.1/21 in 18-49, 16.55m) from 8:36 to 9:20), but “Survivor” won in the night’s opening half-hour by its largest margin in key demos over a regular firstrun NBC comedy (including 7.2/21 vs. 6.9/20 in 18-49) since the finale of “Australian Outback” disposed of “Friends” in May 2001.

In a good sign for NBC, “Joey” retained a strong 93% of its premiere-week rating, winning the half-hour among adults 18-34 and some female demos. And “Will & Grace” built on “Joey” to finish on top for the time period in 18-49 and second to CBS in total viewers.

It may have lost “Friends” and “Frasier,” but NBC still is home to TV’s top-rated comedies in 18-49. In fact, the last time any comedy on any network other than NBC topped Thursday’s “Will & Grace” was an episode of Fox’s “The Simpsons” in February 2003.

“The Apprentice 2″ (8.3/22 in 18-49, 15.90m from 9:20-11 p.m.), meanwhile, shot up 26% from its week-earlier bow to win its time period in key demos. It logged the highest 18-49 rating for any unscripted series since May’s finale of “American Idol 3″ on Fox.

For CBS, “CSI” (7.8/20 in 18-49, 22.32m) followed “Survivor” with the best numbers for any drama on any net since its season finale on May 20. It was the night’s most watched show overall.

On Friday, ABC’s two-hour “20/20″ special salute to Barbara Walters yielded the net’s best 9-11 p.m. numbers on the night since February (prelim 3.0/9 in 18-49, 10.7 million).

NBC won at 9 with the season preem of “Third Watch” (prelim 3.3/10 in 18-49, 9.9 million), but fell to third at 10 with week two of new drama “Medical Investigation” (2.9/9 in 18-49, 8.1 million) — behind “20/20″ and a special “CSI” repeat on CBS.

And ABC led Saturday with its annual telecast of the “Miss America” pageant (prelim 2.8/9 in 18-49, 9.7 million), which was on par with last year and produced the net’s second-best 18-49 result in the 9-11 o’clock Saturday block in seven months.

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