Fox solid with premieres of 'Family,' 'Cleveland'

In the latest sign that auds are looking for laughs, Fox got its Sunday animated lineup off to a socko start with the return of “Family Guy” and bow of spinoff “The Cleveland Show.”

NBC carried the night with pro football action, but Fox was up vs. last year’s premieres, placed second in adults 18-49 and won among the under-35 crowd. Meanwhile, ABC’s once-potent Sunday lineup is showing its age, with “Desperate Housewives” off sharply vs. its year-ago bow.

According to preliminary nationals from Nielsen, “The Cleveland Show” averaged a 4.9 rating/12 share in adults 18-49 and 9.4 million viewers overall at 8:30 p.m. — the strongest demo bow for any scripted series this fall. It’s also Fox’s best start for a comedy since March 2003 (“Oliver Beene”).

“Cleveland,” a spinoff of “Family Guy” featuring the character of Cleveland Brown and his family, built on its lead-in from the “Simpsons,” which opened its 21st season with solid numbers (prelim 4.2/12 in 18-49, 8.2 million).-

“Family Guy” itself had a very strong premiere at 9 p.m. (prelim 5.2/12 in 18-49, 10.2 million), up 16% vs. its bow of last year for the show’s best numbers since January 2008. And despite a sharp drop from its lead-in, 9:30 laffer “American Dad” (prelim 3.6/9, 7.1 million) was up as well vs. last year.

The strong “Cleveland” bow came five days after ABC’s surprisingly beefy bows for laffers “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town.” Fox is also doing well with its new musical comedy “Glee.”

As for “Cleveland,” it figures to be a key show for Fox this fall, as the NFL has pushed back the start time of “Sunday Night Football” to 8:31 p.m. ET (from 8:23 p.m. a year ago). This means Fox will be counting on “Cleveland” to keep auds glued to the net at kickoff, which now takes place at the conclusion of “The Simpsons.”

For its two hours Sunday, Fox’s comedy block averaged a 4.5/11 in 18-49, a 15% improvement over last year (3.9/9), when the net benefited from a football overrun.

Elsewhere, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals averaged a 5.6 rating/14 share in adults 18-49 and 17 million viewers overall on the network’s affiliates from 8:30 to 11 p.m., with its national averages expected to rise by roughly 5%. Indianapolis won the game rather easily, and viewership likely tapered off in the final quarter.

At ABC, a two-hour episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” opened the night, with its regular 8 o’clock hour (prelim 3.1/8 in 18-49, 10.5 million) coming in about 15% below last year and ranking fourth for the timeslot in 18-49.

The dropoffs were even steeper from 9 to 11 p.m. for veteran sudsers “Desperate Housewives” (prelim 4.5/11 in 18-49, 13.2 million viewers overall) and “Brothers and Sisters” (prelim 3.0/8 in 18-49, 9.3 million); though both were in line with their May sweep averages, they came in about 35% below their openers of a year ago.

Preliminary numbers for CBS are a bit murky due to a roughly 15-minute NFL overrun. The net delayed all of its programs in much of the country, with “60 Minutes” delivering roughly a 3.5/10 in 18-49 and 15.7 million viewers overall, followed by the two-hour season premiere of “The Amazing Race” (roughly a 3.4/8 in 18-49, 10.2 million) and the season premiere of “Cold Case” in its new timeslot (roughly 2.1/5 in 18-49, 8.8 million).

“Amazing Race” looks to be up a bit vs. its hourlong opener of last year. The Eye bows its new medical drama “Three Rivers” this coming Sunday at 9.

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