HOLLYWOOD — Heading into last season, Sunday was the most wide-open night of the week, ready for the taking.
Well, it’s been taken.
Boosted by three top-10 hits, including dynamo first-year anchor “Desperate Housewives,” ABC soared to Sunday supremacy and is the overwhelming fave to stay that way this upcoming season.
Among all nights of regular programming, only CBS’ Thursday (7.5 rating in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen) drew better ratings than ABC’s Sunday last season (6.5), with the Alphabet more than doubling its prior season’s perf.
“Desperate Housewives” was No. 3 in 18-49 (behind two “American Idol” editions), frosh drama “Grey’s Anatomy” ranked fifth and reality hit “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” placed 10th.
There’s not a lot shaking on Sunday this fall, with Fox comedy “The War at Home” the only new show and NBC’s move of vet “The West Wing” here the most significant shift.
Here’s a look at the night, skipping past the football-dominated 7 o’clock hour:
NBC wasn’t looking to challenge for the slot lead by moving “West Wing” here but merely to improve upon last season’s weak 18-49 average with “American Dreams” (2.6).
Although 8 o’clock on a weeknight would seem early for such a dense drama, the show’s core 35-plus aud figures to be home with remote in hand on Sunday at this time, so it’s a good move.
“West Wing” should cut into solid CBS drama “Cold Case” (3.5), which also draws an older aud, but it could also free up younger viewers for “The Simpsons” on Fox and “Home Edition” at ABC.
Fox hopes to bridge “The Simpsons” at 8 and “Family Guy” at 9 with new family comedy “The War at Home.” The crass but mildly funny half-hour should play well enough, especially among males 12-30 — the aud least likely to switch to ABC for the conclusion of “Home Edition.”
The WB goes for Middle America on the night, using “Reba” repeats to lead into “Charmed,” which returns here despite ratings slippage.
“Desperate Housewives” will once again dominate in the 18-54 categories, especially among women, and could actually build in season two.
“Family Guy,” which returned very strong last May, gives Fox ideal counterprogramming in a tough hour, and “American Dad” looks like it can hold onto enough of its lead-in to keep the net happy.
CBS, which averaged a 3.0 rating with its “Sunday Movie” last season (up year-to-year), is going for high-concept pics like “Vampire Bats,” “Hunt for the BTK Killer” and “Time Bomb.” These also reflect the net’s smart strategy of wooing more men during football season.
NBC sticks with “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” which fell off opposite “DH” but still performed admirably (3.9). It could get a boost from having “West Wing” in front of it.
And then there’s the WB, whose young-femme aud is probably watching “DH.” Net punts with an hour of Jeff Foxworthy’s “Blue Collar TV.”
“Grey’s Anatomy” should continue to pick up where it left off, holding onto more than two-thirds of the “DH” lead-in and beating the combined scores of NBC’s “Crossing Jordan” and the CBS movie.
“Jordan” is past its peak but is probably better than anything else NBC could do here. Still, net should try a male-skewing drama at midseason.
Bottom line: Fox will improve thanks to “Family Guy,” but it’s still ABC’s night by a landslide, with CBS and NBC battling for third.