Old faves boost fall '06

Auds came back in big numbers for returning favorites last week, helping the major broadcast nets show gains over the premiere frame of a year ago.

ABC captured the opening week of the season in adults 18-49; CBS was on top in adults 25-54 and total viewers; and NBC was second across the board and posted the biggest gains. Fox, though up year-to-year, was once again a non-factor in the early season ratings race, placing a distant fourth.

The four broadcast nets were up 3% vs. the same frame a year ago in adults 18-49 (15.4/42 to 14.9/32) and up 5% in adults 25-54 (17.9/43 to 17.1/42), according to Nielsen.

In the closely watched 18-49 demo, ABC finished with a 4.4 rating/12 share to a 4.0/11 for NBC, a 3.9/11 for CBS and a 3.1/8 for Fox. Univision ran fourth (1.6/4), with the CW — which has yet to air most of its key shows –bowing in fifth place (1.2/3).

CBS edged past ABC in adults 25-54 (5.1/12 to 5.0/12), while the Eye ruled in total viewers (13 million to ABC’s 12.3 million) to claim premiere week by this measure for a fifth straight season.

It was tough to gauge any early trends on the opening week’s results, which was highlighted by a heavyweight tussle between returning shows on Thursday: ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” (11.0 rating/26 share in adults 18-49, 25.41 million viewers overall) toppled CBS’ “CSI” (7.7/18 in 18-49, 22.57m), dealing the crime vet a rare setback.

Still, while “Grey’s” was the week’s No. 1 program in all key categories, “CSI” ranked third in both 18-49 and total viewers. ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” ranked second (9.6/21 in 18-49, 24.09m) — down 20% from its boffo bow of a year ago but up from its second-half average of last season.

No new show really popped a number, with the best results coming Sunday from ABC family drama “Brothers & Sisters” (6.0/15 in 18-49, 15.69m), the only premiere-week skein to win its time period. It retained 63% of its “Desperate Housewives” lead-in.

Also, Thursday’s “Six Degrees” (5.4/14 in 18-49, 12.56m) held about half of its “Grey’s” lead-in to finish as the week’s No. 11 program in 18-49.

In a sign of how tough it is for comedies these days, although five shows cracked the top 25 in adults 18-49 during premiere week, the highest-rated of them — CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” (5.0/12) — placed just 15th.

ABC had perhaps the best story to tell during premiere week, remaining on top for a second straight season in 18-49 even without “Monday Night Football” (which moved to ESPN) and “Lost” (which bows next week).

“Dancing With the Stars” helped the Alphabet show big gains on Tuesday, and the shift of “Grey’s” was a win for ABC, as its monster gains on Thursday more than made up for its losses on Sunday. Looking at the 9-11 p.m. block on Sundays and Thursdays, the Alphabet was up a combined 27% in 18-49 (8.0/19 to 6.3/15).

This would be key for ABC if it continues, since Thursday is a much more lucrative night for advertising.

Another newbie, “Men in Trees” (2.4/8 in 18-49, 8.32m), was up in its second Friday airing, though it placed third as the competish intensified.

NBC was off to a good start as it looks to rebound from two consecutive seasons in fourth place.

Net was paced by the 13th season preem of “ER” (6.8/18, 15.59m), which was up year-to-year and defeated a pair of rookie drama challengers in its timeslot.

Top 10 regular “Sunday Night Football” also is making a difference for the Peacock, as is “Deal or No Deal.” Gamer helped shore up some tough time periods, including a big return to the sked on Monday for its two-hour preem (5.0/13, 15.76m).

“The Office” looked good in its season opener (4.3/11, 9.11m), building on “My Name Is Earl” (3.8/11, 8.86m). And it was a nice week all around for the “Law & Order” franchise, with the original winning Friday on its new night (3.6/11, 11.07m) and “Criminal Intent” and “SVU” pairing up nicely on Tuesday.

CBS showed its broad strength by withstanding some big shots by the other nets, especially opposite its “CSI” skeins. Even without the football overrun it enjoyed in premiere week a year ago, CBS was up slightly in adults 25-54 while slipping slightly in 18-49.

Among new shows, Wednesday’s “Jericho” (3.4/10 in 18-49, 11.66m) looked best, placing second in its slot and improving the time period of a year ago by about 25% in 18-49.

Monday laffer “The Class” (3.6/10 in 18-49, 10.48m) and Tuesday drama “Smith” (3.6/10 in 18-49, 11.00m) also looked solid, while Thursday drama “Shark” was a bit soft (4.1/11, 14.74m), running third in 18-49.

Also key for CBS was the shift of “Without a Trace” (4.8/12, 15.56m) to Sunday. On its new night, the crime vet built on its lead-in from “Cold Case” (4.1/9 in 18-49, 16.27m), which opened to its best preem scores to date in its new slot. And Thursday’s “Survivor” won its slot (6.5/18, 17.43m), up vs. the same night a year ago.

Fox is pretty much biding its time until it can relaunch after the baseball playoffs, as none of its new shows is doing a whole lot. Best performer is Tuesday’s “Standoff” (3.2/8 in 18-49, 7.76m), but it dropped off quite a bit from the net’s No. 1 program, “House” (5.9/17, 13.67), which is up nicely year-to-year.

Fox showed year-to-year gains thanks mostly to a Sunday football overrun, but the net was also up vs. last year’s premiere week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

And CW opened to big numbers on Wednesday for “America’s Next Top Model” (Daily Variety, Sept. 22), but is rolling out most of its key scripted skeins this week.

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