Network's 'Must-See' night is no longer Thursdays

As NBC looks to claw its way out of the primetime cellar, a good place to start would be establishing a powerhouse night to call its own.

While Thursday was once its shining light, the night that is probably most within the Peacock’s grasp these days is Monday. Net has a top-10 hit anchoring the lineup in “Heroes,” and this fall comes a worthy skedmate for it in the delightful “Chuck.”

The comedic hour about a computer tech expert who unwittingly becomes a secret agent will kick off the night for NBC and may prove to work as an ideal companion to “Heroes” in the same way “Ugly Betty” helps set the table for “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC’s winning Thursday.

“Chuck” is one of six rookie programs on Monday night this fall, including a second NBC drama (“Journeyman” at 10 o’clock), a Fox cop drama set in New Orleans (“K-ville”) and one comedy apiece on ABC (“Samantha Who?”), CBS (“Big Bang Theory”) and CW (“Aliens in America”).

“Chuck” and “Aliens” are the best-looking Monday newcomers, but a couple of the others could make some noise as well. They’ll be doing battle with returning hits that include “Two and a Half Men” and “CSI: Miami” on CBS and “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC.

Here’s a look at the night:

8-9 p.m.

Femme fave “Dancing With the Stars” is the show to beat in the key 18-49 and 25-54 demos, but the other nets could chip away in younger and more male demos.

NBC’s “Chuck” is the best bet for success among new hours on any net this fall, and — although it would do even better behind “Heroes” — it seems well skedded here. It should score well with both men and women 18-49 and is also fun and escapist enough to draw some younger viewers.

Its primary competition will be Fox’s “Prison Break,” which is entering its third season. It will be interesting to see if “Prison,” which had a solid season ratings wise a year ago, can keep coming up with enough twists and turns to keep auds riveted.

The hour also features two likable new laffers: “Big Bang” and “Aliens,” both at 8:30.

CBS is building its comedy block one show at a time, and has found a new one that seems a good fit with its lead-out, “Two and a Half Men.” Combined with “How I Met Your Mother,” the Eye won’t challenge for the ratings lead from 8 to 9, but this will be the youngest-skewing hour of the week for the net and one that should perform respectably.

CW’s “Aliens,” about a Pakistani Muslim exchange student who moves in with a Wisconsin family, is a surprisingly smart and satirical laffer. Net was looking for a show it could pair with “Everybody Hates Chris,” and hit the bull’s eye.

Of course, the young net hasn’t launched any scripted hits yet, so it may have to be patient if auds don’t take to it out of the gate.

9-10 p.m.

“Heroes” performed in heroic fashion for an otherwise bumbling NBC last season, standing as the net’s highest-rated new drama among young adults in about 10 years. Most impressive was how well it held up in the second half of its rookie season despite going up against Fox’s “24.”

It should win its hour most weeks in 18-49 while dominating among 12-34, and should benefit by airing fewer repeats during the season.

Its drama challenge comes from Fox’s “K-Ville,” which seems a fairly good fit with “Prison Break” but may prove to be too downbeat to work as a regular series.

And at CW, laffers “Girlfriends” and “The Game” should succeed by going after the under-served African-American aud — although some may also be drawn at the outset to “K-Ville.”

While 90-minute “Dancing” segs will keep ABC strong at 9 o’clock, the net should see a big dropoff at 9:30 for new comedy “Samantha Who.” The Alphabet would have been better off here relaunching soph “Notes From the Underbelly,” which instead awaits a timeslot at midseason.

The comedy king in this hour — as it has been for 50-something years — is CBS, led by TV’s No. 1 comedy, “Two and a Half Men.” “Rules of Engagement” is back at 9:30 after a short, successful rookie season, and the net will like to see it retain at least 85% of its “Men” lead-in.

10-11 p.m.

“CSI: Miami” has ruled this timeslot every year since it bowed in 2002, and its only real stiff competish this fall figures to come from ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” — and not NBC’s “Journeyman.”

Although an intriguing premise, “Journeyman” lacks energy and doesn’t seem to think it’s important to tell viewers why its title character (a newspaper reporter) can time travel. It seems unlikely auds will stick with NBC in this post-“Heroes” hour.

ABC, meanwhile, should be competitive among adults 18-49 (and probably win among young women) with still-potent dating skein “The Bachelor.”

Bottom line

ABC, CBS and NBC will all be fine on this night, but Fox could be in for a fall.

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