ABC leads as sweep begins

ABC is off to the early demo lead in the May sweep, capturing Thursday to start the ratings period for a third straight year.

Overall, though, the addition of more firstrun programming dragged the numbers down across the board, including NBC’s “Southland,” which drooped some in its third outing — and its first opposite ABC’s “Private Practice.” Still, both it and fellow Thursday newbie “Parks and Recreation” remain virtual locks to secure spots on the Peacock’s fall sked.

Looking at the Thursday numbers, “Grey’s Anatomy” (5.0 rating/13 share in adults 18-49, 13.51 million viewers overall) won in 18-49 over a firstrun seg of CBS’ “CSI” (3.7/9, 14.64m) by a season-best 35%, though the Eye vet was the night’s most-watched program overall. Both shows were down by about 20% year to year, with higher national rates of DVR penetration playing some role in the declines.

NBC’s “The Office” (3.8/10 in 18-49, 7.28m) was down slightly, but “30 Rock” was up, leaving the net on par with a year ago. Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” ran fourth (3.0/8, 6.08m) but was up over the net’s reality programming in the timeslot a year ago.

CBS rolled at 8 with “Survivor” (3.5/11, 11.30m), though it too sagged vs. last year. The NBC comedy block of “My Name Is Earl” (2.2/7, 5.54m) and “Parks and Recreation” (2.3/7, 5.26m) were neck and neck for second in the 18-49 demo with Fox’s “Bones” (2.3/7, 8.42m), with “Parks” off 8% from the previous week.

At 10, NBC’s “Southland” (2.4/7 in 18-49, 8.11m) dropped 20% week to week but still defeated CBS’ struggling “Harper’s Island” (1.9/5, 7.02m). ABC moved back to the slot lead with the first original “Private Practice” (3.3/9, 9.08m) since March.

Though “Southland” has lost some steam, it’s still performing better than the other rookies to bow this spring. It’s expected to be paired with “Law and Order: SVU” on a weeknight in the fall, most likely Wednesday.

CBS won Friday behind the night’s top show, “Ghost Whisperer” (prelim 2.1/8 in 18-49, 9.1 million), but ABC was close behind and more competitive than usual with a two-hour “20/20″ (prelim 1.8/6 in 18-49, 6.5 million).

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