Must See TV" on CBS? If week one of the new broadcast season is a barometer, it's beginning to look that way. On Sept. 23, CBS took down rival NBC in a Thursday showdown, winning total viewers and two key adult demos on the weeknight NBC has dominated for years. The win comes after a huge Wednesday-night victory for CBS (see story on page 4.)
The CSIseason premiere led CBS's Thursday assault, nabbing a stunning 30 million viewers, 11.1 rating in adults 18-49 and a 13.4 rating in adults 25-54, according to preliminary Nielsen data. CSI trounced NBC's The Apprentice, although the reality show pulled in the Peacock's best numbers that night: 15.7 million viewers and an 8.0 rating in 18-49s. "CBS came out running this week," says Zenith Media research chief Roy Rothstein, adding that CSI's performance "bodes well for the entire franchise."
CBS's other heavyweight, Survivor: Vanuatu, wrestled down Joey and Will & Grace. The hour-long Survivor averaged 19 million viewers and a 7.2 rating in 18-49s, while Joey logged 14.6 million viewers and a 6.2 rating in the demo. Will & Grace recorded 15 million viewers and a 6.8 rating. In this Survivor, creator Mark Burnett is pitting men against women, a "brilliant" way to capture more women viewers, notes Rothstein.
The 10 p.m. hour was a tighter race.
CBS's mystery drama Without a Trace nabbed 21.4 million viewers, besting NBC's ER season premiere, which recorded 19.7 million viewers. A little good news for NBC: In adults 18-49, ER registered a 9.9 rating, compared with Without a Trace's 7.4 rating.
The night marked CBS's first win in adults 18-49 and 25-54 on a premiere Thursday night since 1990, when a two-hour episode of The Flash and Knots Landing lifted it to the top. This was the second week Survivor topped NBC's 8 p.m. offerings. NBC execs can't be happy. They counted on Joey and last year's surprise breakout The Apprentice to carry the Thursday torch.
Now, says veteran media buyer Howard Nass, head of HN Media Services, the NBC brass better take a long, hard look at their lineup—fast. "Did it happen demographically? Was it endemic to the programming?" he asks. "They've got to figure this out fairly quickly. This has been their golden carrot for so long."
After debuting thriller Lost to a roar Sept. 22, ABC went quiet on Thursday night. A two-hour Extreme Makeover averaged 6.5 million viewers and a 2.1 in adults 18-49. Newsmagazine Primetime Live followed with 6.5 million viewers and a 2.0 rating in 18-49s.
But it's the Thursday battle between CBS and NBC that will heighten in the coming weeks. Viewers spend premiere weeks shopping around between shows. Expect both sides to favor heavy stunts to lure eyeballs. More super-sized Donald Trump anyone?