Fox’s ’24’ roars back with a vengeance

Numbers appear to be up 15% in 18-49 over last year

The fifth season of Fox drama thriller “24” bolted out of the starting blocks Sunday night, with its two-hour opener outperforming last season’s strong launch.

For a second straight year, Fox chose to kick off “24” with a two-hour episode Sunday following NFL playoff action and then move it to its regular night of Monday with another two-hour seg.

Numbers for Sunday are subject to revision since “24” didn’t start until 8:13 in much of the country due to a lengthy football game, but preliminary Nielsens suggest the show should come in with about a 7.0 rating/15 share in adults 18-49 and 16.2 million viewers overall.

This would rep a roughly 15% improvement in 18-49 over last year’s opening night 6.1 rating and a 9% gain in total viewers (from 14.8 million). In its regular Monday-at-9 slot last season, “24” averaged a 5.0 rating.

Fox dominated the opening hour of primetime Sunday with the conclusion of the Carolina Panthers-Chicago Bears NFL playoff game, which topped a 12 rating in adults 18-49 and drew more than 30 million viewers overall.

Fox’s strength from 8 to 10 put a dent in ABC’s usually dominant shows. Both “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (prelim 6.4/14 in 18-49, 15.5 million) and “Desperate Housewives” (prelim 9.5/20, 22.5 million) were down week-to-week, with “DH” losing out to “24” in male demos.

“Grey’s Anatomy” held up well at 10 for ABC (prelim 8.6/20, 19.1 million), easily winning its hour.

CBS was led by “Cold Case” (prelim 3.6/9 in 18-49, 14.5 million), while original Tom Selleck movie “Jesse Stone: Night Passage” did a 2.6/6 in the demo and drew 14.4 million viewers overall.

At NBC, “West Wing” continues to struggle (prelim 1.6/4 in 18-49, 6.4 million), with the net then picking up some with “Law & Order: CI” (prelim 3.5/7, 10.7 million) and “Crossing Jordan” (prelim 3.6/8, 10.7 million).

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