'Apprentice' doesn't get job done

The television season doesn’t officially kick off until tonight, but most of the early glimpses of fall haven’t been very encouraging for the nets.

Among the premieres getting a jump on the competish last week, NBC’s civilian version of “The Apprentice” bombed in its bow Thursday, and the net’s new drama “Outlaw” didn’t wow in its special preview on Wednesday or its timeslot debut (a repeat of Wednesday’s episode) on Friday.

CW may have been able to breathe a sigh of relief that its two new shows — dramas “Hellcats” and “Nikita” — opened to solid-enough numbers two weeks ago, but the question is whether they’ll hold up opposite the onrush of Big Four programming this week.

CBS, though, has reason to be happy about the season premiere of “Survivor” as its shifted to Wednesday night (Daily Variety, Sept. 17). High-profile contestant Jimmy Johnson, the former Dallas Cowboys coach and the focus of the Eye’s promotional push in recent weeks, likely attracted a lot of viewers who haven’t watched the show of late.

A whopping 60 series will kick off the season in the Sept. 20-26 frame, including 16 newcomers on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. Tonight will see the most new shows bowing on any single night (five), including 9 p.m. serialized dramas “Lonestar” on Fox and “The Event” on NBC, which will be up against tough established shows like “Two and a Half Men,” “Dancing With the Stars” and “Monday Night Football.”

Looking at the early numbers, “The Apprentice” had its weakest start to a season to date (1.5/4 in 18-49, 4.57m), placing last among the major networks with its two-hour preem from 9 to 11 on Thursday; of course, it got little help from its repeat “The Office” lead-in (1.2/4, 3.13m), which was trounced by a special 8:30 episode of CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory” (2.4/8, 8.13m).

CBS aired four episodes of “Big Bang” to get auds used to the idea of the show shifting to its new night, and it built about as well as it has been performing this summer on Mondays.

“Apprentice” will air regularly in the 10 p.m. hour, and its celeb season is on tap for Sundays beginning in late winter.

Also for NBC, “Outlaw” averaged an OK 2.3/7 in 18-49 and 10.68 million viewers overall on Wednesday (retaining about half of the highly rated final half-hour of “America’s Got Talent”), then did a tiny number for a repeat of the pilot in its regular 10 p.m. slot on Friday (prelim 0.9/3, 3.9 million), which aired following “Dateline” (prelim 1.6/6 in 18-49, 6.9 million) in the 9 o’clock hour.

It’s unfair to judge the show based on its unique week 1 rollout, but it didn’t appear auds were clamoring to see Jimmy Smits in his new role as a Supreme Court justice with various personal vices. Its regular competish beginning this week will include new CBS drama “Blue Bloods” and long-running ABC newsmag “20/20.”

For CW, the second week episodes of “Hellcats” and “Nikita” fared reasonably well, but the net may have hoped for a little stronger start for both shows, given that auds will have more choices in their tough respective timeslots beginning this week. Among others, “Hellcats” will oppose “Modern Family” and crime dramas on CBS and NBC, while “Nikita” will face brutal drama competish from “Grey’s Anatomy,” “CSI” and “Fringe.”

Last Wednesday, the second episode of “Hellcats” (1.1/3 in 18-49, 2.64 million viewers overall) declined a bit from its premiere while lead-in “America’s Next Top Model” (1.3/4, 2.88m) held steady. The college cheerleading drama is retaining a solid enough percentage of its lead-in (including 86% in 18-34), but “Model” isn’t the big young-adult draw it once was.

And “Nikita” (1.2/3, 3.20m) again looked good relative to its “Vampire Diaries” lead-in in broad categories, but held a less impressive 71% of “Vampire” in adults 18-34 rating (1.2 vs. 1.7).

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