'Apprentice' poised to battle 'Survivor,' 'CSI'

“The Apprentice” is back — now on Thursday — and viewers found it.

After being bounced from its short-lived Wednesday perch, NBC’s hot unscripted venture into the corporate jungle of New York shined in its first regular timeslot appearance on Thursday, rolling to the week’s top young-adult rating outside of “American Idol.”

Powerful perf sets up quite an opening-night February sweep showdown this Thursday, when “The Apprentice,” following an original expanded episode of “Friends,” takes on the CBS combo of “Survivor” and “CSI.”

Last Thursday, “Apprentice” dominated (9.3/23 in adults 18-49, 18.88 million viewers overall), building by 21% in 18-49 on a repeat “Will & Grace” (7.7/20) and giving NBC its best delivery in the 9 o’clock hour with regularly scheduled programming since October 2002.

These numbers are just a bit below what “The Apprentice” averaged with two special Thursday previews airing behind original episodes of “Friends” (9.6/23 in 18-49, 19.3 million viewers overall). And it’s a big improvement over the 4.9/12 in 18-49 that “The Apprentice” garnered opposite Fox’s “American Idol” in its lone Wednesday outing on Jan. 21.

“Apprentice” easily topped a repeat of “CSI” (6.4/16 in 18-49, 20.19m) in key categories except total viewers, sending the crime drama to one of its lowest regular-slot Thursday scores to date. And in adults 18-34, it wasn’t even close, with the NBC skein more than doubling “CSI” (9.4/27 vs. 4.3/12).

The stronger NBC showing in the 9 o’clock hour also seems to be helping 10 o’clock drama “ER” (6.1/16 in 18-49, 13.34m), which delivered its best repeat score since April 2002. For the first time, a repeat “ER” defeated a firstrun seg of CBS’ “Without a Trace” (5.9/16 in 18-49, 17.48m) in 18-49, although “Trace” pulled ahead in adults 25-54 and total viewers.

CBS did well on Saturday with spec “Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials” (prelim 3.9/11 in 18-49), which also seemed to elevate 8 o’clock’s “Star Search” (prelim 2.6/8).

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