TV’s hour of power

'CSI' leads Thursday push

For one week anyway, the race in television’s hottest hour has gotten tighter.

As “Grey’s Anatomy” began life without last season’s regulars Kate Walsh and Isaiah Washington, the medical drama saw its advantages in the young-adult categories shrink, while rivals “CSI” on CBS and “The Office” on NBC both opened strong.

“CSI” gave “Grey’s” a tough battle in 18-49 and scored a rare victory over it in adults 25-54, while “The Office” made a successful move to the 9 o’clock slot with an hourlong preem that matched the show’s best rating to date.

The strong “CSI” perf and winning demo deliveries by “Survivor” and “Without a Trace” lifted CBS to victory on Thursday in 18-49 (edging out ABC) as well as 25-54 and total viewers, according to Nielsen. The Eye also won Friday, with its new vampire detective skein “Moonlight” performing solidly on what was a moribund overall night for the broadcasters.

Looking at Thursday’s action, “Grey’s Anatomy” (8.8 rating/21 share in adults 18-49, 20.93 million viewers overall) won in adults 18-49 — and stands as premiere’s week’s top score in the demo — but was off by 20% from its preem of a year ago, when it was making its Thursday debut. It dominated among adults 18-34 (9.1/23) and all key female demos.

“CSI,” though, logged a strong 8.2/19 in 18-49 (up 6% from last year), beat “Grey’s” by 2 shares in adults 25-54 (9.9/22 to 9.3/20) and drew the largest overall aud for any show during premiere week (25.22 million).

NBC was no slouch in young adult demos itself, with the first of four hourlong episodes of “The Office” (5.1/12 in 18-49, 9.66m). Show matched its series high in 18-49 and was up 19% from last year’s 8:30 p.m. bow.

In the 9:30 half-hour, ABC, CBS and NBC combined for 53% of all 18-49 viewing on television.

It’s worth keeping in mind, especially on a crowded night like Thursday, that DVR playback will inflate the final numbers for all programs more than ever. The 9 o’clock shows, in particular, might be able to pick up 15% or more viewers when all DVR playback within seven days is included.

CBS vet “Survivor” won to open the night (4.6/13 in 18-49, 14.15m) despite tumbling 25% year-to-year. ABC’s second-place “Ugly Betty” (3.8/11 in 18-49, 11.0 million viewers overall) was down 22% itself, although this year’s premiere was the show’s best average since February.

NBC was on ABC’s heels with the one-hour premiere of “My Name Is Earl” (3.8/11, 8.66m), which was on par with its year-ago half-hour opener.

And in the 10 o’clock hour, CBS was triumphant with the slot return of “Without a Trace” (4.7/13 in 18-49, 16.68m), which was up 15% from last year’s debut of “Shark” in the time period. ABC ran a competitive second with the series preem of “Big Shots” (4.5/12 in 18-49, 11.10m), although the drama declined 22% on the half-hour.

In what is likely its final season, NBC’s “ER” (4.1/11, 9.92m) ran third, off a whopping 40% year to year.

Fox was a spectator Thursday, with reality entries “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (2.1/6 in 18-49, 7.48m) and “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” (1.8/4, 5.32m), while CW’s “Smallville” was solid in kicking off its season at 8 (1.9/6, 5.18m).

On Friday, CBS edged out NBC for the night’s lead in 18-49 (prelim 2.4/8 to 2.2/7) as well as total viewers (8.8 million to 8.6 million), though the leaders were off a troubling 23% and 26% respectively from the opening Friday of last season.

And the five broadcasters settled for a combined 30 share of the 18-49 aud, down sharply from last year’s 37. Without a lot of top-drawer viewing options, perhaps auds are opting to use Friday as a DVR playback night.

CBS won easily at 8 with “Ghost Whisperer” (prelim 2.4/9 in 18-49, 8.7 million) despite a 25% year-to-year decline. NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” ran second (prelim 1.8/7, 7.5 million) but cratered by 47% vs. a year ago.

“Moonlight” kept the Eye on top at 9 (prelim 2.5/8 in 18-49, 8.6 million), though it was off by 17% from “Close to Home” of a year ago.

NBC was competitive in both that hour and from 10 to 11, with the two-hour season preem of “Las Vegas” (prelim 2.4/8 in 18-49, 9.1 million). It was down 29% from the net’s showing in the time period a year ago (“Dateline”/”Law & Order”), although this was the time period’s best results since March.

From 10 to 11, “Vegas” (prelim 2.6/8 in 18-49, 9.2 million) was neck and neck with CBS’ “Numbers” (prelim 2.5/8, 9.2 million).

ABC’s weak night was paced by the 10 o’clock “20/20” (prelim 1.8/6 in 18-49, 6.8 million), which placed third in its slot. Fox’s best showing came at 8 p.m. with “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (prelim 1.4/5 in 18-49, 5.1 million).

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