NBC comedy scores in its season premiere

The buzz surrounding Tina Fey paid off for NBC on Thursday as “30 Rock” opened to series-best ratings behind hot laffer “The Office.”

And two nights later, her appearance as Gov. Sarah Palin alongside Sen. John McCain on the Peacock’s “Saturday Night Live” drove the show to its second-best overnight score in 11 years.

In primetime Thursday, NBC gained ground on its rivals, too, but CBS prevailed in all broad measures and ABC ran second. It was a disappointing night all around for the broadcasters, though, as every net but CW was down by double-digit percentages vs. the same night a year ago.

Halloween Eve festivities may have affected the ratings for most shows, as early-evening viewing levels were especially low.

CBS prevailed on Halloween, and football lifted ABC on Saturday. The Alphabet and Eye are the month’s early leaders among 18-49 and are expected to wage a tight battle down to the finish.

Looking at Nielsen estimates for Thursday, “30 Rock” kicked off its third season with solid numbers (4.1 rating/10 share in adults 18-49, 8.66 million viewers overall), though it ran third in its timeslot and came in a bit below the three-week October average for “Saturday Night Live” election specials (4.4/10).

“Rock” retained a solid 85% of its lead-in from “The Office” — up from its 69% average for the brief time it aired in the 9:30 slot a year ago.

NBC is hoping to keep interest in the critically acclaimed show high by pumping up the guest stars in coming weeks. Jennifer Aniston and Oprah Winfrey are among the celebs who’ll appear on “30 Rock” in the sweep.

For its part, “The Office” (4.8/12 in 18-49, 9.51m) was up 7% vs. a year ago in 18-49, led its timeslot in 18-34 (5.5/15) and drew its largest overall audience of the season. It and “30 Rock” combined to lift up NBC 9% in 18-49 vs. last year’s “Office”/”Scrubs” combo.

ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” comfortably won the hour in 18-49 (5.7/14, 15.32m) though it was down sharply year to year. Off, but by not as much, was CBS’ “CSI” (4.8/12, 19.10m), which still led the hour in 25-54 (6.6/15) and total viewers.

The 9 o’clock hour has definitely tightened this season, with “The Office” beating a firstrun “CSI” head to head for the first time (4.8/12 vs. 4.7/12). And last month, “CSI” beat a firstrun “Grey’s Anatomy” in the demo for the first time.

CBS’ “Survivor” (4.1/12, 13.02m) dominated the night’s opening hour over ABC’s “Ugly Betty” (2.6/7, 8.55m) and NBC’s “My Name Is Earl” (2.4/7, 6.27m) and “Kath & Kim” (2.4/6, 5.44m).

Fox did little on the night with “Kitchen Nightmares,” including an original at 9 o’clock (1.7/4, 3.91m). CW drew similar numbers but was up year to year, with “Smallville” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 4.32m) and “Supernatural” (1.5/4, 3.55m), which had some of their best scores of the season.

At 10, NBC vet “ER” (3.4/9 in 18-49, 9.19m) prevailed in demos over CBS’ “Eleventh Hour” (2.8/8, 11.25m) and ABC’s “Life on Mars” (2.6/7, 8.14m). “Mars” was up week to week, while “Hour” was down.

CBS won each hour in Friday prelims, starting with “Ghost Whisperer” (2.2/8 in 18-49, 9.4 million) and ending with “Numbers” (prelim 2.3/8 in 18-49, 10.6 million). In between, a special repeat “NCIS” (2.3/8 in 18-49, 11.2 million) dominated at 9 o’clock, rising more than 50% above the score in the timeslot the previous week for the since-pulled “The Ex List.”

NBC drew tiny numbers for its dramas “Crusoe” (prelim 0.8/3, 4.2 million) and “Lipstick Jungle” on its new night (0.9/3, 3.2 million).

ABC rolled Saturday with the down-to-the-wire college football contest between No. 1 Texas and No. 7 Texas Tech. Game likely averaged about a 4 rating in 18-49 — more than double anything else in primetime on the night.

In latenight, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” with an appearance by McCain and hosted by Ben Affleck, averaged a 9.0 household rating/20 share in metered-market overnights. It was a bit below this season’s high, set two weeks earlier (10.7/24), but these are the two top ratings for the show since December 1997.

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