Rating the TV’s freshman class

Lighter fare more to viewers' tastes

The 2009-10 TV season hasn’t been a blockbuster year for rookies, but the networks fielded the most even-performing crop of new series in years.

Just one frosh entry will finish in the season’s top 10. However the seeds have been planted across the networks for sophomore-season growth.

With the launch of May sweeps, the season is heading toward the homestretch. Still before webheads finalize their fall skeds, they ought to investigate what auds responded to the most during the past seven months.

Overall, the shows on the Rookie Top 10 list (Illustrious 11, actually) are lighter and more family-friendly than past years. No heavy crime dramas or medical shows appear, while seven skeins prominently feature comedy.

One unscripted series made the list — but it doesn’t feature eliminations. This is further evidence that reality show fans are already happy with primetime’s veteran contest shows (think “American Idol,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “Survivor” and “The Biggest Loser”) and are looking for something else in the alternative genre.

Each of the top first-year shows will be back next season, along with NBC’s “The Marriage Ref” and “Who Do You Think You Are” — midseason entries that fit into the theme of lighter and/or family-friendly entertainment (but didn’t perform strongly enough to make the list of top newbies). The future’s even more uncertain for ABC’s darker hours “V” and “FlashForward,” which also missed the cut.

Here’s an analytical ranking of the 2009-10 season’s most impressive newcomers:

10. “Community” (NBC) and “The Middle” (ABC)

The most critically acclaimed new half-hours found a core aud despite no lead-in help (“Community” kicked off Thursday and “The Middle” followed the quickly yanked “Hank” or repeats on Wednesday).

“Community” fared better in DVR playback, so its seasonal 18-49 average (2.5 rating) is higher than “The Middle” (2.2), although the latter — which is providing ABC with year-to-year growth in its time period — appeared to be gaining more steam down the stretch.

9. “Cougar Town” (ABC)

The Courteney Cox laffer with a provocative name opened very strong before settling into a pretty good ratings range in the fall. It then fell off down the stretch, but it’s unclear how much of that was due to facing the envelope-opening portion of Fox’s “American Idol” results show.

For the season, it averages a 3.1 rating in adults 18-49, retaining more than 80% of its “Modern Family” demo lead-in and also performing well among upscale auds.

8. “Parenthood” (NBC)

This comedic family drama has held up well following its post-Olympics launch in early March. Its total viewer numbers aren’t great, but the aud is mostly made up of the kind of upscale 18-49ers that NBC had traditionally attracted with its 10 p.m. dramas. Show averages a 3.3 rating in 18-49 and has been a strong gainer in same-week DVR playback.

7. “The Good Wife” (CBS)

The best-reviewed drama of the season helped CBS become more competitive in an hour where it had typically struggled.

Though not a great fit with the “NCIS” shows that precede it on Tuesday, “Good Wife” performed well enough to warrant a second season.

It has averaged a 2.7 in 18-49 (and a 3.8 in 25-54), but cooled late opposite stronger competition from “Parenthood. ”

5. and 6. “The Cleveland Show” (Fox) and “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS)

These are paired because they performed comparably and did just what their nets had hoped: extend the brand. Both spinoffs were scheduled alongside their progenitors, with the Fox entry preceding “Family Guy” on Sunday the Eye show following “NCIS” on Tuesday.

“NCIS: Los Angeles” is the only crime hour from last year to make the list but it’s more of a buddy-cop drama with comical elements. In one of TV’s toughest timeslots, it averages a 3.5 rating in 18-49 (holding 85% of its lead-in) and is the season’s top scripted newbie in adults 25-54.

“Cleveland” has provided Fox with growth in the half-hour between “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” ranking as the season’s top new scripted show in teens and men 18-34.

Both shows are expected to stay put in the fall.

4. “The Vampire Diaries” (CW)

Just when you thought auds had enough of vampires, the CW tapped into the vein with its hottest original series to date.

“Vampire’s” mix of teen angst and the supernatural struck a chord with young auds: While it averages a 1.5 rating in adults 18-49, it pulls a 1.7 in adults 18-34 and a 2.6 in female teens — and has recently led its Thursday 8 p.m. hour among femmes under 35.

3. “Undercover Boss” (CBS)

It came and went quickly, but the Eye’s strongest reality newcomer in about a decade certainly made an impact.

After bowing to the largest aud on record for a premiere following the Super Bowl, “Boss” — smartly paired with “The Amazing Race” on Sunday — averaged a 6.2 rating in 18-49 for its nine episodes (including its preem), a score topped only by “American Idol” and “Sunday Night Football.”

Some have doubted whether “Boss” can be a long-term player, but it would be a surprise if it didn’t land on the net’s fall sked — and perform well.

1. and 2. “Glee” (Fox) and “Modern Family” (ABC)

You can toss a coin here as these shows will finish as the top scripted rookies in 18-49, despite opposing each other during the first half of the season. Both skewed young and very upscale, two great selling points for advertisers.

“Glee” (3.8 average in 18-49) should finish with the slightly higher average due to its plum post-“American Idol” spring timeslot and fewer repeats, but “Modern Family” (3.7 rating) will be close behind — impressive since it has opposed “Idol” since mid-January.

Both of these shows also made a big winner out of critics, who back in August labeled “Modern Family” and “Glee” as the season’s best newcomers.

Sometimes, the cream really does rise to the top.

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