NBC’s “Ed” rolled a ratings strike in its first frame Sunday, posting winning scores in one of the network’s toughest timeslots. Skein could be in for a rougher time in upcoming weeks, though, when its formidable regular competition returns.

In its first time out, the critically heralded drama from NBC Studios, David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants and Viacom attracted 15.7 million viewers and delivered a strong 6.5/16 rating in adults 18-49, according to prelim nationals from Nielsen. It’s the net’s best demo score in the Sunday 8 p.m. hour in more than three years.

“Ed” was the top series of the night in adults 18-49, 18-34 (5.5/15) and 25-54 (8.0/17), topping both ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The Practice.”

Lookin’ good

The only other new series of the night — the WB’s “Hype” and “Nikki” — also looked good, boding well for Frog net’s chances with a six-sitcom Sunday.

As for “Ed,” the drama about a big-city lawyer who returns to his small hometown and buys the local bowling alley improved by 9% in viewers and by 12% in adults 18-49 compared with the series premiere last season of “Third Watch.” It will finish the week as the No. 3 drama in adults 18-49.

Like “Third Watch,” though, which eventually landed on Mondays, “Ed” figures to have a tough time approaching these first-week levels in future weeks.

Less competish

In its first outing, “Ed” faced neither CBS’ “Touched by an Angel” nor Fox comedies’ “The Simpsons” and “Malcolm in the Middle.” The Eye drama’s premiere was pushed back a week on Sunday due to a nearly one-hour NFL overrun in the East (“Ed” faced “60 Minutes” in the East and a repeat “Angel” in the West), while Fox is holding back its top-ranked laffers until after the World Series.

A year ago, the “Third Watch” preem faced both “Angel” and “Simpsons.”

Still, the debut numbers are promising for NBC, which has struggled in the early hours of Sunday evening in recent years, making it more difficult for its Sunday movie to compete from 9-11.

On this night, for example, the strong “Ed” showing enabled NBC’s movie (theatrical “Kiss the Girls”) to top the net’s fourth-quarter movie average of a year ago by 10% in adults 18-49 (5.5 vs. 5.0).

Eye opener

The CBS Sunday movie also got off to a strong start, helping to cap a first-place night for the Eye, according to prelim Nielsens (16.3 million viewers, 5.2/13 in A18-49) that are subject to revisions today due to the football overrun.

Valerie Bertinelli made-for “Personally Yours” topped last season’s movie premiere by 16% in adults 18-49 (5.0 vs. 4.3), finishing a competitive 3 shares behind demo leader ABC.

The Alphabet finished second on the night in viewers (14.1m) and third in adults 18-49 (4.9), close behind CBS (5.2) and NBC (5.0).

Net’s “Wonderful World of Disney” pic “Mighty Joe Young” (9.94m, 3.6/9 in A18-49) was up 9% in the demo vs. last year’s opener, while “Millionaire” (prelim 20.2 million, 6.2/14 in A18-49) delivered sizable gains over the timeslot’s “Snoops” a year ago — up 53% in viewers and 32% in 18-49.

‘Practice’ down

At 10, though, “The Practice” (prelim 16.3m, 6.2/15) was down vs. last season’s preem by 8% in viewers and by 9% in the demo. (Last year’s premiere came just two weeks after the show was named best drama at the Emmys.)

Reliable prelim nationals weren’t available for Fox’s baseball coverage Sunday night, but the deciding fifth game in the Yankees-Athletics series (8.2/13 in overnights) should rank as the top-rated postseason baseball telecast of the week.

The WB’s “Hype” (4.2/6 in overnights) and “Nikki” (4.7/7) built solidly on their lead-ins from the 8 o’clock hour: “Steve Harvey” (3.9/6) and “The PJs” (3.6/5). Newcomers’ 4.5 average should translate into national scores that are roughly double what the net averaged in the May sweeps with “Movie Stars” and “Zoe.”

Nielsen will issue Sunday nationals this morning.