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The NFL kicked off its season Thursday on NBC to some of the best numbers for a regular-season game in more than a decade as auds remain riveted to the travails of Brett Favre. Opposite the game, CW launched its Thursday lineup — including newcomer “Nikita” — to solid numbers.

According to preliminary national estimates from Nielsen, NBC’s stations averaged a 9.5 rating/25 share in adults 18-49 and 24.4 million viewers overall from 8:30 to 11 p.m., with the national numbers expected to surge well past the 10 demo mark and 25 million viewers overall.

In Nielsen’s metered-market overnights, the New Orleans Saints’ 14-9 victory over Favre and the Minnesota Vikings averaged a 17.7 household rating/28 share — the highest regular-season primetime NFL rating on any network since a December 1997 contest between Denver and San Francisco on ABC. It was up a healthy 28% over last year’s NFL Kickoff, which drew a 13.8/23 for the Pittsburgh-Tennessee overtime matchup. The game did a 78 share in host city New Orleans and a 64 share in Minneapolis.w

Elsewhere, CW kicked off the second season of “The Vampire Diaries” (1.6/5 in 18-49, 3.4 million viewers overall) followed by the debut of femme spy drama “Nikita” (1.4/4 in 18-49, 3.6 million viewers overall). “Nikita” looked best among the broader categories of 18-49 (where it beat ABC’s original “Rookie Blue” and repeats of CBS’ “CSI” and Fox’s “Fringe”) and total viewers, where it built a bit on “Vampire Diaries. Among the net’s core 18-34 demo, it fell off from “Vampire” (1.3 vs. 1.9), although CW points out that “Nikita’s” women 18-34 score (1.9/5) matches its all-time high in the Thursday 9 p.m. timeslot.

“Vampire Diaries” was within about 10% of its strong series debut of a year ago while logging its best delivery among women 18-34 (2.8/9) since February.

CBS notched the night’s top series score on the broadcast networks with “Big Brother” (2.5/8 in 18-49, 7.7 million viewers overall), which was up week to week but declined in its second half-hour — likely as a result of the football game, which began shortly after 8:30. It was followed by repeats of crime dramas “CSI” (1.2/3 in 18-49, 6.0 million viewers overall) and “The Mentalist” (1.2/3 in 18-49, 6.6 million viewers overall).

ABC aired a repeat of “Wipeout” (1.4/4 in 18-49, 5.2 million viewers overall) followed by the two-hour season finale of “Rookie Blue” (1.2/3 in 18-49, 4.9 million viewers overall), while Fox did little business with encores of its regular in-season lineup of dramas “Bones” (1.0/3 in 18-49, 4.5 million viewers overall) and “Fringe” (0.7/2 in 18-49, 2.5 million viewers overall).

Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: NBC, 8.8/24; CBS, 1.6/5; Univision, 1.6/4; CW, 1.5/4; ABC, 1.3/3; Fox, 0.9/2.

In total viewers: NBC, 22.9 million; CBS, 6.8 million; ABC, 5.0 million; Univision, 3.7 million; Fox, 3.5 million; CW, 3.5 million.