Big debuts fail to bring in big audiences

If early returns are any indication, it could be a challenging fall for the broadcast networks: Four new series got a jump on the competition with early bows Wednesday night, but none seemed to excite auds.

Fox’s “Back to You” and “Kitchen Nightmares” looked solid but unspectacular, while CBS’ “Kid Nation” fared OK but didn’t open to the kind of numbers commensurate with the publicity and controversy it had generated over the summer. And CW’s “Gossip Girl” scored big with female teens but didn’t do a whole lot in broader demo categories.

One caveat that applies to all shows this season is the DVR factor. With more and more viewing done on viewers’ timetables, premiere-night ratings can’t be expected to hold up as well as in past years. Also, some pilots this season have been made available to the public on various platforms prior to their television debuts.

According to live-plus-same-day DVR viewing estimates provided by Nielsen, CBS’ “Kid Nation” opened with a 3.1 rating/9 share in adults 18-49 and 9.38 million viewers overall from 8 to 9:06 p.m. Show, which drew criticism about child endangerment and exploitation, narrowly won its opening hour in 18-49 — moving into the lead at 8:30 — but with an average slightly below what “Jericho” debuted with in the timeslot last fall.

It seemed to draw more family viewing than the typical CBS show, as its kids number was above average (an 8 share), while its 50-plus number was relatively low. “Kid’s” success would seem to hinge on getting more kids to start talking about the show, something CBS hoped to spur by offering screenings of its preem at schools in eight cities across the country.

It will also receive a second airing Saturday at 8.

At Fox, Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton laffer “Back to You” bowed at 8 o’clock with a 3.1/10 in 18-49 and 9.48 million viewers overall, making it the top show of the night in 18-49 share and rating (tied with “Kid” and “Kitchen”). “Back to You” beat “Kid Nation” head to head in adults 18-49 (3.1/10 to 2.7/9) and total viewers (9.51 million to 8.55 million).

“‘Til Death” followed at 8:30 (2.8/8 in 18-49, 7.76m), dropping off some while auds flipped to the conclusions of the hourlong programs in the time period.

For the hour, Fox was up slightly from its performance in the timeslot a year ago with “Bones,” as “Back to You” was up by 24% at 8 (3.1 vs. 2.5 in 18-49) and “Death” was flat.

Competition intensifies in the coming week for “Back to You,” “Kid Nation” and the other opening-hour skeins as ABC — the only network not airing regular firstrun fall programming in the 8 o’clock hour this week — will join the party with “Pushing Daisies.” (A special one-time airing of “Dancing With the Stars” plays Wednesday at 8 next week).

NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” kicked off its season with below-par numbers (2.5/8, 9.86m) but did spike up in the second half-hour of an NFL-themed episode as a contestant zeroed in on the $1 million prize.

CW’s “America’s Next Top Model” looked good as usual kicking off its season at 8 o’clock (2.5/8 in 18-49, 5.22m), winning the hour in persons 12-34 (3.0/11) and dominating in femmes 12-34 (4.7/16).

At 9, “Gossip Girl” (1.7/4 in 18-49, 3.50m) fell off quite a bit in broader categories but held up well in femmes 12-34 (3.6/11), winning its hour and retaining more of its “Model” lead-in (77%) than any other show to bow behind the nonscripted heavyweight.

It’s worth pointing out that other long-running teen soaps like “Beverly Hills 90210″ and “One Tree Hill” didn’t exactly storm out of the gate. Net also has to be pleased that the show hit a bull’s-eye in female teens (5.3/17), where it opened higher than the preems of other young-skewing shows like “The OC,” “Gilmore Girls” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Fox moved to the 18-49 lead at 9 o’clock with the bow of “Kitchen Nightmares” (3.1/8 in 18-49, 6.61m), which built nicely in its second half-hour but didn’t approach the ratings level of the summer show it hatched from, “Hell’s Kitchen.”

ABC ran third in most categories from 9 to 10 with its spec “From Grey’s Anatomy to Private Practice” (2.5/7 in 18-49, 7.14m), a retrospective of Kate Walsh’s “Grey’s Anatomy” character Addison Montgomery. Walsh leads the ensemble in “Practice,” a “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff that bows in the Wednesday-at-9 hour next week.

And NBC’s season finale of “Last Comic Standing” (2.9/8 in 18-49, 7.10m) posted the show’s best numbers in five weeks, moving to the timeslot lead in key demos from 10 to 11.

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