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NBC’s ‘Apprentice’ gets off to fast start

Reality skein trumps timeslot competish

HOLLYWOOD — NBC may have found its “Survivor.”

One week a phenomenon does not make, but the Peacock’s corporate-world reality skein “The Apprentice” got off to a socko start airing behind “Friends” on Thursday, delivering the best debut ratings for the premiere of any new skein in a year.

Critically praised series, from “Survivor” creator Mark Burnett and featuring business tycoon Donald Trump in a prominent hosting role, will air one more time on Thursday before settling into its Wednesday-at-8 slot — where even if it generates half of what it did on Thursday it would be a considerable upgrade for NBC.

On Thursday, the 82-minute debut of “The Apprentice” (8:37-9:59 p.m.) averaged a big 9.1 rating/22 share among adults 18-49 and 18.49 million viewers overall — despite facing primetime’s No. 1 program, CBS drama “CSI.”

In the 9 o’clock hour, “CSI” prevailed (9.7/23 in 18-49, 27.48 million viewers) and was actually up year-to-year, as CBS and NBC dominated all other nets.

“Apprentice” achieved the highest new series preview/premiere in both 18-49 and total viewers since Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” last January. NBC Research estimates nearly 28 million watched at least some of it Thursday.

Show, which won its time period in adults, men and women 18-34, largely maintained its 18-49 audience throughout the telecast. Its 9.1 average repped a 47% increase from NBC’s 8:30-10 p.m. average this season (6.2).

While NBC has done very well the past two years with the durable and largely close-ended format reality skein “Fear Factor,” it had yet to find the elimination-style franchise reality series that has served as an anchor for the other broadcast nets.

CBS got the ball rolling with “Survivor” in the summer of 2000, ABC found its format with the relationship skein “The Bachelor” in spring 2002 and Fox hit the top of the charts with “American Idol” a few months later.

Each episode of “The Apprentice” features Trump “firing” one of the contestants vying to become a well-heeled prexy of one of his companies. It remains to be seen if Trump would serve as the series “master” in future seasons.

It was a great night all around for NBC on Thursday, as “The Apprentice” was sandwiched by best-since-premiere scores for both “Friends” (11.9/31 in adults 18-49, 25.49 million viewers overall) and “ER” (10.9/27 in 18-49, 22.83m).

At 10, ABC didn’t do much with its much-publicized interview of former baseball player Pete Rose, who at long last admitted he bet on baseball while manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Although the newsmag averaged a solid 2.9/7 in adults 18-49 and 8.32 million viewers overall, the 10:30 half-hour featuring Rose settled for a distant third-place 2.7/7 in the demo; an interview with actress Charlize Theron in the first 30 minutes netted a stronger 3.2/8.

Of note on Friday was a soft premiere for NBC’s “Ed” in its new 9 o’clock slot (prelim 2.3/7 in 18-49, 7.4 million viewers). Fox also struggled from 8 to 9, with the premieres of “Totally Outrageous Behavior” and “World’s Wackiest Videos” combining for a fourth-place 2.3/7 in 18-49.

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