TV's biggest hits are also the most recorded

While the networks prep for the third frame of the season starting tonight, they still anxiously await final word on premiere-week viewership.

Full-week DVR playback numbers for the opening stanza of the season won’t be available until next Monday, but Nielsen data for three-day playback released Friday by NBC provides a pretty good look at which shows are considered must-see-soon by viewers.

The nets, studios and creative types behind primetime series like to use “live plus 7-day” to show just how many people are watching their shows in an era of declining same-night viewership. But since advertising is sold based on the C3 metric (the number of commercials watched both live and via three-day DVR playback), these L3 numbers (live plus three-day program averages) are more reflective of a show’s relative worth to Madison Avenue.

ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” last season’s biggest DVR gainer in “live plus 7″ (gaining on average 1.5 ratings points in adults 18-49) opened this season in the same fashion.

In L3, “Grey’s” saw its 18-49 rating rise 1.14 ratings points from the originally reported “live plus same day” average of 5.41 to 6.55. Other shows gaining three-quarters of a ratings point or more were ABC’s “Modern Family,” CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” NBC’s “The Office,” Fox’s “House,” ABC’s “Private Practice” and “Desperate Housewives” and CBS crime dramas “CSI,” “The Mentalist” and “Criminal Minds.”

Such gains help TV’s top entertainment series close the gap with premiere week’s No. 1 program, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which saw virtually no L3 gain and stands at a 7.4 rating. In the updated standings, then, “Grey’s Anatomy” is a more competitive second at 6.6, followed by Fox’s “Glee” (6.3) and ABC’s “Modern Family” (6.1).

NBC’s “The Event,” which airs in a time period with megahits like “Monday Night Football,” “Dancing With the Stars” and “Two and a Half Men,” was the new program with the biggest gain in L3, rising 0.71 (from a 3.60 to 4.31). The new shows with the smallest gains were ABC’s Wednesday series “The Whole Truth” (0.18) and “Better With You” (0.17).

Nielsen also provided a category for DVR lifts specifically in DVR households, where “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Modern Family” and “The Big Bang Theory” all gained more than 2 full 18-49 ratings points from the next day’s reported “live plus same-day” numbers to “live plus 3.” “Grey’s” reached a gaudy 9.7 three-day rating by this measure.

Only 37% of the young-adult rating for “Big Bang” (an 8 p.m. show) was achieved by live viewing, while nearly 40% of its L3 number was done in playback on Thursday night, with the additional 23% coming in the Friday-Sunday period. In total viewers, meanwhile, CBS’ 10 p.m. Thursday drama “The Mentalist” had the biggest lift, adding 2.67 million viewers to boost its overall total to 18.17 million. Also gaining more than 2 million were “Hawaii Five-0″ (up 2.40 million to 16.60m), “Grey’s Anatomy” (up 2.39 million to 16.71m), “Modern Family” (up 2.19 million to 14.66m) and “CSI” (up 2.04 million to 16.72m).

And on a percentage basis, the biggest gainers in overall audience — all adding 33% or more — were CW’s “90210,” NBC’s “The Office” and Fox’s “Fringe,” “House” and “Glee.” CW, whose shows deliver smaller numbers, showed 30% gains or more for eight of its 10 series.

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