NBC drama bow wows

“Heroes” came to NBC’s rescue Monday night, bowing with the most impressive premiere numbers for a new show this season.

After “Kidnapped” opened softly and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” didn’t exactly wow in its preem, the Peacock needed a boost; the drama about ordinary people who discover they have superpowers delivered. Show opened with the net’s best rating for a fall drama premiere in five years, attracting both men and women in all key demos.

Also of note Monday, ESPN set more network records for the emotional NFL return of the Saints to New Orleans’ Superdome, while “Studio 60″ and “The Class” both declined in their second tries. And nobody seemed interested in catching the CW’s “Runaway.”

NBC topped its broadcast rivals in 18-49 on the night, edging past CBS (4.7/11 to 4.4/11), while the Eye moved into the lead in both adults 25-54 (5.6/13) and total viewers (13.4 million).

ESPN, in a cable rarity, led primetime overall in some key categories.

According to Nielsen nationals, “Heroes” bowed to a 5.9 rating/14 share in adults 18-49 and 14.10 million viewers overall — growing 55% from its “Deal or No Deal” lead-in (3.8/10, 13.00m). In a good sign, the drama also built audience in the second half-hour.

Series preem in 18-49 is the season’s second best, a tick behind Sunday’s “Brothers & Sisters” on ABC (6.0/15), although the Peacock’s “Heroes” is more notable because it didn’t have a huge lead-in like “Desperate Housewives.”

“Heroes” beat CBS’ comedy block of “Two and a Half Men” (4.8/12 in 18-49, 15.28m) and “Old Christine” (3.8/9, 12.19m) by a combined 37% in adults 18-49 and by 17% in 25-54. Showing broad appeal, it did a 15 share in both men 18-34 and women 25-54.

Looking to gain even more exposure, NBC rebroadcast the “Heroes” pilot Tuesday night at 8; its sister cabler Sci Fi will air it Friday night.

Elsewhere on the second Monday of the season, NBC’s “Studio 60″ (4.2/11 in 18-49, 10.83,) declined 16% from its preem of a week earlier (5.0/13 in 18-49), despite a more compatible lead-in this time from “Heroes.” Drama fell 19% behind what “Medium” delivered in the hour last season in 18-49 (5.2/13).

Number is still pretty solid, though, especially if it levels off or grows from here and “Deal” and “Heroes” continue to perform in front of it.

Also on the decline was CBS laffer “The Class” (2.9/8 in 18-49, 8.48m), which placed third at 8 in demos. It slid 22% from its premiere and came in 17% below the “King of Queens” score in the slot last season (3.5/10 in 18-49).

Left in the dust of “Heroes” in the 9 o’clock hour Monday was Fox’s fading “Vanished” (2.1/5 in 18-49, 6.47m) and the CW’s premiering “Runaway” (0.7/2, 2.18m).

Also for CW, “7th Heaven” returned four months after its “series finale” on the WB to a so-so 1.5/4 in 18-49 and 4.19 million viewers overall.

ABC, whose “The Bachelor” and “What About Brian” bow over the next two Mondays, was paced by “Wife Swap” at 9 (3.6/9 in 18-49, 7.92m), up week to week.

As for ESPN, the Saints’ 23-3 victory over the Falcons generated a 6.0 rating/17 share in adults 18-49 and 15 million viewers overall. ESPN has set network records this month for each of its first three “Monday Night Football” contests.

The only cable program on record to draw more viewers than Monday’s game was the 1993 NAFTA debate between Ross Perot and Al Gore on CNN.

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