Peacock flying high

Frosh shows, 'SNL' anni make NBC must-see TV for week

The Peacock’s got some pluck left in it.

Thanks to a huge Sunday tune-in for the “Saturday Night Live 25th Anniversary Special,” as well as promising debuts for several dramas, NBC is expected to finish at the front of the premiere-week pack in both households and adults 18-49, according to estimates that include preliminary weekend results.

Households leader CBS will finish a close second in homes for the week, with all four of its frosh skeins getting significant sampling from auds.

Official Sept. 20-26 averages are due from Nielsen today, but NBC is projected to achieve a 9.9 household rating for the frame (even with last year’s premiere-week result) to edge CBS’ 9.7. ABC will settle for third with roughly an 8.4 (down 2%), while Fox limps home fourth with a 5.2 (down 10%).

Among adults 18-49, NBC appears headed toward its biggest margin of victory in the demo since May 3-9, the week it aired “Noah’s Ark, Part 2.” The Peacock’s projected 6.3 rating (down 3%) will easily top ABC’s 5.0 (down 4%) and CBS’ 4.3 (down 9%), while Fox will land deep in fourth with roughly a 3.7 (down 14%).

The NBC triumph in homes could be an anomaly, since this season that net will seldom match the stellar numbers it got from Sunday’s “SNL.”

Nonetheless, the Peacock’s close win in the beauty contest measure — along with its continued dominance in key demos — is a pleasant surprise for execs in Burbank. The net had been on a six-week losing streak with adults 18-49, capping a shaky couple of seasons in which it seemed to be stuck in an unending downward spiral.

Anticipating the unexpected win, NBC has taken the unusual step of scheduling a telephone press conference for today in which the net’s West Coast prez Scott Sassa and NBC Entertainment prexy Garth Ancier will tout the Peacock’s strong opening-week results.

Sassa Monday sounded cautiously upbeat about the Peacock’s premiere week performance.

“We put seven new shows on the air last week, and overall, we were really encouraged by their performance. We’re also very proud of the performance of some of our returning hits,” he said. “But it’s very, very early. We’re nothing more than encouraged.”

Indeed, skeptics point out that the net’s two new comedies, “The Mike O’Malley Show” and “Stark Raving Mad,” both got off to disappointing starts last week, while returning laffers “Suddenly Susan,” “Veronica’s Closet” and “Jesse” continue to flop with auds.

NBC still has reason to brag, however.

Isn’t that special

The “Saturday Night Live” special dominated this first Sunday of the new season, attracting 23 million viewers and a 12.2 rating, 28 share among adults 18-49 in preliminary Nielsens. That doubles the 6.1/15 in adults 18-49 captured by NBC’s year-ago premiere-week Sunday pic “GoldenEye” and gives NBC its best 18-49 tally with an entertainment spec since the 1992-93 season.

The sensational “SNL” numbers somewhat overshadowed NBC’s impressive start at 8 p.m. with the timeslot debut of “Third Watch.”

While CBS won that 8-9 p.m. hour in viewers with “Touched by an Angel” and Fox did better in adults 18-49 with “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” the Peacock rookie from Warner Bros. and “ER” exec producer John Wells climbed a stellar 43% over the 18-49 average earned by “Dateline NBC” in that slot last season.

Felicitous Sunday

The WB, meanwhile, got off to a satisfactory start Sunday with the new timeslot bow of “Felicity” (an average 4.4 rating, 7 share in metered-market household averages), topping the netlet’s overnight average in the slot during the May sweeps (a 3.4 rating) by 29%. WB execs expect they’ll roughly double the slot’s adults 18-34 and women 18-34 results from last May when Nielsen issues national results today.

Frog settled for a 23% falloff the next hour with the premiering “Jack & Jill” (3.4/5 in the metered markets), but that’s still 31% better than the netlet’s slot average during the May sweeps (a 2.6 rating). “Jack” faced exceptional competition from NBC’s “SNL” spec.

That was also the case for ABC’s premiere of producer David E. Kelley’s ultrahyped “Snoops” (14 million, 5.0/11 in adults 18-49), which fell 2% short of last year’s premiere-Sunday 18-49 result in that slot with “20/20.” Despite the intense competish, “Snoops” showed a sizzling 39% build on its Disney movie lead-in and boosted ABC by 14% in adults 18-49 vs. the net’s performance in the same timeslot a year ago.

‘Practice’ perfect

At 10 p.m., Kelley’s Emmy-winning 20th Century Fox Television skein “The Practice” (18 million, 6.9/16 in adults 18-49) dazzled the Nielsen jury with series-record total-viewer numbers and a 33% increase over its year-ago 18-49 premiere rating (6.9 vs. 5.2).

Fox got an OK start from its Sunday lineup, down 4% for the night compared to last year’s 18-49 average (with a 5.1 rating vs. a 5.3). The “Simpsons” topped its year-ago premiere 18-49 result by 5% (6.5 vs. 6.2), but “Futurama” held a disappointing 86% of that 18-49 lead-in, down from last year’s 90% for “That ’70s Show.”

Fox also missed “The X-Files” from 9-10 p.m., as the audience quickly bailed out on “Family Guy” (7.8 million, 3.6/8 in adults 18-49) and a rerun of Fox’s Thursday flop “Action” (4.6 million, 2.3/5 in adults 18-49).

At 7:30, a powerful football overrun helped Fox’s “King of the Hill” (9.6 million, 5.0/15 in adults 18-49) to its best 18-49 numbers in more than a year. Net may have finally found a suitable home for the Emmy-winning toon, which struggled on Tuesdays last season.

Eye blinks

The premiere-week competition was tough on CBS’ Sunday regulars, with “60 Minutes” (13.7 million, 3.1/10 in adults 18-49) and “Touched by an Angel” (18 million, 4.5/11 in adults 18-49) sliding 9% and 7%, respectively, vs. year-ago viewer totals.

The Eye’s Sunday pic, “Music From the Heart” (16 million, 4.5/10 in adults 18-49), plunged 29% below the viewer count for last year’s comparable film, “Forever Love,” and that falloff has a lot to do with why CBS will be down significantly for the week.

Long-term, however, Eye could be in good shape if new dramas “Family Law,” “Judging Amy” and “Now and Again” repeat their solid premiere week numbers.

NBC’s households win is a surprise — the Peacock’s first since July 12-18, when its numerous “Dateline” editions drew increased interest due to the JFK Jr. disappearance. On the other hand, the victory came despite last Wednesday’s “Country Music Awards” on CBS, which earned a big 12.3/20 –numbers the Eye won’t often match. What’s more, NBC rested its Thursday heavyweight “ER” last week.