Strong start for comedies, spinoffs

Socko starts for spinoffs and strong sampling for several other new shows highlighted a surprisingly robust opening to the season for the broadcast nets.

Premiere week was an especially good one for comedy, as half-hours accounted for seven of the week’s top 20 programs, while just a single reality program made it to the list.

In the network race, ABC and CBS finished neck and neck in the broader demos of 18-49 and 25-54, while the Eye had a little bit of a cushion in pulling out a victory in total viewers. Fox was close behind in 18-49 while prevailing among adults under 35 for the first time ever in a premiere week.

That left NBC on the outside looking in, as it landed only one of the week’s top 25 entertainment series in adults 18-49 (“The Office”). Net’s averages were hampered by softness at 10 p.m. with “The Jay Leno Show” but boosted by the potent “Sunday Night Football.”

Despite strength and more buzz than in recent years for their crop of new shows, overall numbers remain down for the Big Four, due largely to declines in reality shows like “Dancing With the Stars” and “Survivor” as well as some veteran scripted skeins. The majors slipped by 7% in both adults 18-49 and 25-54 and 4% in total viewers vs. the opening frame of last year.

Another factor, of course, is increased DVR usage. Nielsen estimates that the national penetration among adults 18-49 is 38% this fall, up from 32% a year ago.

Doctors continued to rule the hourlong form, as ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” (6.7 rating/17 share in adults 18-49, 17.03 million viewers overall) and Fox’s “House” (6.7/16, 17.16m) scored big with their two-hour season preems. They finished a tick behind the week’s top program, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” game between Indianapolis and Arizona (6.8/17, 17.47m), according to Nielsen.

Spinoffs scored big on CBS and Fox, with the Eye’s combo of “NCIS” (4.8/14 in 18-49, 20.60m) and the new “NCIS: Los Angeles” (4.4/11, 18.73m) dominating on Tuesday (Daily Variety, Sept. 24). In total viewers, they finished on top of the weekly primetime program rankings.

Fox also seemed to benefit from spinoff mojo as “Family Guy” spinoff “The Cleveland Show” opened very well Sunday at 8:30 p.m. (4.9/12 in 18-49, 9.51m) between the season preems of “The Simpsons” (4.3/12, 8.31m) and “Family Guy” (5.2/12, 10.11m).

Looking at overall network averages, ABC won premiere week in 18-49 for a fifth straight year — but its 3.3 rating/9 share was down 13% vs. last year. CBS ran second (3.2/9, up 3% vs. last year), followed by Fox (3.1/9, up 3%) and NBC (2.7/8, down 18%).

CBS edged past ABC for the week’s lead in adults 25-54 (4.1/11 to 4.0/10) and also prevailed in total viewers (11.8 million to 11.0 for ABC). Fox ruled in persons 12-34 (2.8/9 to 2.3/8 for ABC).

CBS, which claimed eight of the week’s top 20 programs in 18-49 (more than any other network), was the top broadcaster on the season’s opening three nights. In addition to strong returnees like “The Big Bang Theory,” “NCIS” and “Criminal Minds,” new shows “Accidentally on Purpose” (3.3/8 in 18-49, 8.91m) and “The Good Wife” were solid in their bows.

Net also ran second on Thursday despite a sluggish start for “CSI” (4.1/10 in 18-49, 16.01m) and won Friday behind “Ghost Whisperer” (2.3/8, 8.76m).

ABC’s best news came courtesy of strong starts for Wednesday comedies “Modern Family” (4.2/11 in 18-49, 12.60m) and “Cougar Town” (4.4/11, 11.28m) and Thursday drama “FlashForward” (4.0/12, 12.47m).

And despite noticeable declines, vets “Dancing With the Stars” and “Desperate Housewives” remain top 20 performers.

Fox’s week was bookended by “House” and its Sunday animated laffers, including the new “Cleveland Show.” Net also received solid scores from Wednesday’s “Glee” (3.1/8 in 18-49, 6.64m), which won its hour among the under-35 crowd.

At NBC, the stripped 10 p.m. “Jay Leno Show,” which comprised 22.9% of the net’s primetime sked, averaged a 1.9 rating/5 share in its second week — behind ABC and CBS, both of which pulled a 3.4/9. After ranking first among the broadcasters in its premiere week, it ran third every night last week opposite stronger competish.

Still, NBC likely would be happy if “Leno” can stay at around this range while it tries to bolster the struggling shows leading into it.

“Biggest Loser” continues to perform well on Tuesday (3.1/8, 7.55m), but Monday’s “Heroes” (2.8/7, 6.10m) and Wednesday’s “Law and Order: SVU” both opened meekly (2.5/7, 8.36m).

CW continues to struggle, but “Vampire Diaries” held up well opposite other preems (1.7/5, 3.80m). “The Beautiful Life,” a new Wednesday drama and one of three shows on the net to draw less than 2 million viewers, was axed after a poor second outing.

On cable, FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” held up well in its third outing of the season (1.9/5 in 18-49, 3.49m), finishing second in its 10 p.m. hour Tuesday among adults 18-34 (1.9/6), topping drama premieres on ABC and CBS and finishing just a tick behind NBC’s “Jay Leno Show.”

Showtime’s “Dexter” (1.52m) and “Californication” (821,000) kicked off their seasons Sunday with their largest preem auds to date. The “Dexter” crowd is the best for any Showtime series in at least five years.

And cable numbers for the third quarter showed USA winning in adults 18-49, 25-54 and total viewers for a 13th straight sesh. Net’s “Burn Notice” stood as the No. 1 scripted series.

Fox News dominated the news nets, beating CNN and MSNBC combined in adults 25-54.

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