NBC's news laffer holds its own against competish

The Peacock’s “Earl” was a pearl in its preem, producing the new season’s first jaw-dropping ratings results.

Fourth-place NBC was looking for a spark and may have found one in “My Name Is Earl,” an unlikely comedy whose Tuesday bow dominated against competish that included Fox’s “House” and ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” whose special “Dance-Off” failed to do much.

First Tuesday of the season also saw nice starts for third-year CBS drama “NCIS” and seventh-year NBC drama “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” both of which delivered their best premiere-week scores to date.

As for “Earl,” many questioned its ratings potential even though it generated strong reviews and was the beneficiary of a big promotional push.

After all, it’s a single-camera laffer — there hasn’t been a hit one on any broadcast net — about a thieving bottom dweller from the South who finds a form of karmic salvation. And it airs on NBC, known over the years for its more urban, erudite laffers like “The Cosby Show” and “Frasier.”

But after failing in recent years to find the next “Friends” and “Will & Grace,” the net went in a different direction — and the initial results are encouraging.

According to Nielsen, 20th Century Fox Television’s “My Name Is Earl” averaged a 6.6 rating/16 share in adults 18-49 and 15.25 million viewers overall, winning the 9 o’clock half-hour across the board.

That’s the best NBC comedy score Tuesday at 9 since “Frasier” in November 2002. And excluding the night of the “Everybody Loves Raymond” finale on CBS last May, no regular comedy on any net has earned a higher 18-49 rating since last November (“Two and a Half Men”).

“Earl” had strong support all around, generating at least a 16 share in male and female adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 demos.

Such balance could help it as competish intensifies next week, when new ABC drama “Commander-in-Chief” and CBS’ reality hit “The Amazing Race” invade an hour already inhabited by hit Fox drama “House.”

Even if “Earl” loses 20%-25% of its 18-49 aud next week (an acceptable falloff following a big preem), it figures to challenge for the slot lead.

NBC showed as recently as last season that it can open series, but comedy “Father of the Pride” and drama “Revelations” both faded and are no longer on the sked. “Earl” at least has goodwill going for it, as it was one of the most critically hailed laffers of recent seasons.

Following “Earl,” the season preem of “The Office” (4.3/10 in 18-49, 9.00m) lost 35% of its lead-in but racked up its best regular-slot scores to date. NBC is hoping now that the strong sampling leads to better retention of “Earl” auds in coming weeks.

Elsewhere Tuesday, “NCIS” opened very well for CBS (3.8/11 in 18-49, 15.48m) despite facing forensics competish from Fox’s “Bones” (3.0/8 in 18-49, 7.39m), which declined in its second week but still looked OK.

“NCIS,” off a strong summer following an improved second season, won the 8 o’clock hour in 18-49 and dominated in 25-54 (5.2/13) and total viewers. It’s the best start to a season for the show, and in demos it’s the second-best delivery for any episode.

NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” finished off the night a winner (5.5/14 in 18-49, 16.82m), up 4% year-to-year for its best-ever season opener. Show benefited from an atypical lack of drama competish on the other nets.

In its second seg of the season, Fox’s “House” fell off some (4.9/12 in 18-49, 13.64m), placing second for the hour in 18-49 but moving into the slot lead at 9:30. Also in week two, NBC’s “Biggest Loser 2″ was on the upswing (3.4/10, 7.93m), logging the timeslot’s best score for NBC since Jan. 11.

On the reality front, two summer music contests in which a lead singer for a group was chosen wrapped with series-best scores: CBS’ “Rock Star: INXS” (3.8/10 in 18-49, 7.83m) and UPN’s “R U the Girl” (2.0/5, 4.09m).

Not so hot was ABC’s “Dancing” spec, which averaged a 2.8/7 in 18-49 and 10.91 million viewers — a far cry from the 6.7/19 demo score it earned with its July finale. Also, CBS’ “Big Brother 6″ didn’t see a bump for its finale (3.2/8 in 18-49, 8.15m).

At the WB, “Supernatural” held up pretty well at 9 in its second week (2.2/5 in 18-49, 5.01m), retaining 88% of its 18-49 preem score and 96% in persons 12-34. Net was most pleased with the thriller’s 61% week-to-week gain in female teens (3.7/13 vs. 2.3/8), a key trending demo for the Frog.

For the night, NBC won in 18-49 with a 4.8 rating (up 23% vs. last year).

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