CBS dominates night with crime drama franchise

It all came together in a big way for “NCIS” on Tuesday as the original topped 20 million viewers and its Los Angeles-set spinoff had a big bow of its own for CBS, which cruised to victory with some of its best premiere-week numbers in years.

Net’s 10 p.m. drama “The Good Wife” opened with solid-enough scores as well, helping the Eye win by 2 shares in adults 18-49 and by 3 shares in adults 25-54. One year earlier, when kickoff Tuesday included the top-rated drama on both Fox (“House”) and NBC (“Law and Order: SVU”), CBS ran third in both categories.

Indeed, CBS was the only network up vs. the opening Tuesday of last year (by 24% in 18-49) while its rivals all slid by double-digit percentages.

Elsewhere, ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” won the night’s reality showdown despite ratings declines, the net’s Jerry Bruckheimer crime drama “The Forgotten” did OK in its bow, and NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show” bounced back from its series-low scores of the previous night.

But the big news of the night was “NCIS,” perhaps TV’s most unsung drama hit. The stars were aligned for a boffo bow, and it delivered.

A big cliffhanger from May already had auds pumped, and the major competish gave CBS a break by skedding all reality programming opposite it (including Fox switching from “House” to “Hell’s Kitchen”). Also, repeats of “NCIS” on cabler USA have performed very well and likely brought many new viewers to the show’s seventh-season CBS preem.

Looking at the numbers, “NCIS” opened with series-best scores across the board: a 4.8/14 in adults 18-49, 6.5/17 in adults 25-54 and 20.60 million viewers overall. It was up a big 33% in 18-49 vs. last year’s opener (3.6/10).

Though it does draw a substantially older audience, the show isn’t just for the codger crowd. In addition to its dominance among 25-54, it beat Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” among adults 18-34 and more than doubled the teen delivery of CW’s competing “90210.”

Leading out of “NCIS” was spinoff “NCIS: Los Angeles” (4.4/11 in 18-49, 18.73 million viewers overall), which retained 92% of its 18-49 lead-in and outperformed the series preem of “The Mentalist” from last season by a healthy 26% in 18-49 and by 20% in total viewers.

“NCIS: Los Angeles” is the season’s top-rated new program to date and drew the largest overall opening-night audience for a scripted series premiere since the Eye’s last crime drama spinoff, “CSI: NY,” bowed with 19.3 million in 2004.

At 10, Julianna Margulies legal drama “The Good Wife” (3.1/8 in 18-49, 13.71m) won its timeslot, outperforming last season’s “Without a Trace” by 11% in 18-49 and 21% in total viewers. Still, it lost a big chunk of its lead-in, especially men.

Elsewhere, ABC, NBC and Fox all put up similar demo scores from 8 to 10 p.m., with ABC’s two-hour “Dancing With the Stars” leading the reality pack (3.5/9 in 18-49, 15.37m) despite a hefty decline from last year, when it aired from 9-11. It was also off 15% in 18-49 from its two-hour start on Monday (4.1/10).

Two episodes of “Hell’s Kitchen” on Fox were competitive, opening with a 3.2/9 in 18-49 and 6.78 million viewers overall at 8 p.m. and then rising a  bit at 9 p.m. (3.5/9, 6.98m).

At NBC, “The Biggest Loser” (3.1/8 in 18-49, 7.55m) was down as expected from its hefty premiere of the previous week opposite lesser competition but was up slightly vs. the comparable night of a year ago.

“Loser” led into “The Jay Leno Show” (2.5/7 in 18-49, 6.91m), which was up vs. its Monday numbers and finished neck and neck in demos with ABC’s premiering drama “The Forgotten” (2.6/7 in 18-49, 9.54m). Latter opened a bit better than last fall’s “Eli Stone” in the timeslot.

This night figured to be Leno’s best shot at competing with programming on ABC and CBS as he faces two new dramas and will receive its strongest, most consistent lead-in courtesy of “Loser.” On Tuesday, Leno beat the preems on ABC and CBS in adults 18-34 (2.0/6) and some key male demos.

At CW, “90210” (1.0/3 in 18-49, 2.00m) and “Melrose Place” (0.8/2, 1.44m) both dropped opposite the influx of firstrun fare.

For the night, CBS won in adults 18-49 (4.1/11) with its strongest start on a Tuesday in four years. And in total viewers, its winning average aud of 17.7 million reps its best on premiere Tuesday since 1993.

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