It is too early to tell whether it was the addition of a couple of highly touted debuts, but NBC's critically acclaimed sitcom My Name is Earl came back to earth Tuesday night, while Fox's drama House built on its ratings foundation.
Earl still won its time period with a strong 4.9 rating/12 share in the 18-49 demo, but it just barely beat the first half-hour of House (4.8/12), which was up from the week before, while Earl was down significantly. Last week, for its debut, Earl scored a 6.4/16 compared to House's 4.4/11.
Helping make the 9-10 time period more competitive was the launch of ABC's presidential drama, Commander in Chief, and the season debut of CBS' Amazing Race. Commander in Chief averaged a 4.3/10 in the hour and the first hour of a two-hour Race recorded a 4.4/11. ABC says Commander in Chief go the highest 18-49 ratings in the time period since October 2004.
Despite Earl's win in the first half hour, Fox won at 9-10, with House finishing strong with a 5.2/12 at 9-9:30 and a 5.0/12 to win the hour. Or, as Fox put it: "Stuart Little's dad beats Stuart Little's mom." House stars Hugh Laurie, who played the mouse's dad in the theatrical feature, while Commander in Chief stars Geena Davis, who played the mom in the movie.
NBC's Earl lead-out, The Office, was down significantly from the week before to a 3.6/8 from a 4.3/10.
At the end of the day, NBC managed to eke out a win on the night with a 4.1/11, thanks primarily to a 5.1/13 for Law & Order: SVU at 10.
Fox and CBS tied in rating at a 4 apiece, with Fox beating CBS by a share point, 11 to 10. Fox was powered by House, while CBS' top show was Amazing Race.
ABC was fourth on the night with a 3.5/9 in the 18-49 demo, led by Commander in Chief. Boston Legal's return to the schedule at 10 came in a distant third with a 3.4/9, on par with what NYPD Blue was doing in the time period last season.
The WB was fifth with a 2.2/6 thanks to Gilmore Girls and new spooky show Supernatural, while UPN was unable to crack a 1 rating (.9/2) with a repeat of Next Top Model and the hardly registering debut of Sex, Love & Secrets (.5/1).