'Apprentice' does job in ratings

In the shadow of “Desperate Housewives” for its entire run, ABC sudser “Brothers and Sisters” proved it could stand on its own Sunday, locking up winning numbers with a special two-hour installment.

Sunday also showed there’s still plenty of life in NBC’s “The Apprentice,” whose second celeb edition opened to solid numbers. And CBS scored a sizable overall audience — albeit an older-skewing one — for its latest telepic in the Tom Selleck-fronted “Jesse Stone” series.

According to preliminary estimates from Nielsen, “Brothers and Sisters” averaged a 4.1 rating/10 share in adults 18-49 and 11.9 million viewers overall from 9 to 11 p.m., winning its timeslot in demos and peaking at 10:30 with a 4.4/11. These averages were the show’s best since its season premiere in September.

In its most recent airing, behind “Housewives,” “Brothers” averaged a 3.1/8 in 18-49.

By going with back-to-back episodes of “Brothers and Sisters,” ABC was able to rest “Desperate Housewives” and make an event out of “Brothers and Sisters.” The success of “Brothers and Sisters” Sunday may also give ABC the confidence to move the show to another night for its fourth season in the fall should it want to try something else behind “Housewives.”

Elsewhere, NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” averaged a prelim 3.8/9 in 18-49 and 8.8 million viewers overall from 9 to 11 p.m., rising throughout its telecast. It placed second in 18-49 and first in key male demos.

Though down vs. last year’s premiere of “Celebrity Apprentice” (which aired on a Thursday during the writers strike), the segment gave NBC its best numbers in the timeslot with entertainment programming in a little over two years. Net had struggled to find something that works on Sundays in the second half of the season after football ends each December.

“Apprentice” built nicely on its lead-in from the spec “Saturday Night Live: Best of Will Ferrell” (prelim 2.2/5 in 18-49, 5.9 million). Beginning March 15, new drama “Kings” will serve as its lead-in.

At CBS, “Jesse Stone: Thin Ice” (prelim 2.2/5 in 18-49, 15.1 million) ranked third or fourth in various demos but won its timeslot in total viewers and was the night’s most-watched program. Lead-in “The Amazing Race 14″ (prelim 3.0/8, 10.8m) had its best showing in its three outings but still trailed nonscripted ABC rival “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (prelim 3.5/9, 11.0 million).

Fox dominated the night’s opening hour in demos with a NASCAR overrun, leading into the top-rated seg of “The Simpsons” (prelim 4.6/12 in 18-49, 12.6 million) since November.

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