Outside of Fox’s already-shelved Nashville, nothing else opened up dead on arrival. And that was a relief for network executives, who were anxious to see early returns in a tumultuous fall with digital-video-recorder penetration nearing 20%, Nielsen Media Research trying to find its way with new measurement metrics and the broadcast world coming off yet another summer slump.
"I can’t remember a year where I’ve had less of an idea what to expect," CBS scheduling chief and programming vice president Kelly Kahl said.
While overanalyzing premiere-week numbers is fun but not entirely practical, NBC and ABC had some early reason for optimism, although Grey’s Anatomy came back lower than expected.
CBS hopes early samplers of new shows will settle back into familiar names (as they seemed to Thursday with CSI and Without a Trace), and Fox now has a couple of extra weeks than in previous years to try to get some fourth-quarter traction before the Major League Baseball playoffs.
The week opened with a big relief for NBC on Monday night thanks to a 6.5 preliminary rating for Heroes, although the final number won’t come until this week because the network chose to increase its audience with a Saturday reair. But NBC’s hopes for a turnaround would have been even more desperate if one of its few assets failed to reopen its sophomore season.
Significantly less promising was the 3.5 for rookie Journeyman, a show that might have difficulty adding new viewers later because of a tricky premise.
ABC had good news on the night, as Dancing with the Starscame back strong with a 5.8 for its 90-minute premiere.
Tuesday night was a bright spot in a long week for Fox, thanks to House returning with a massive 7.8 number.
Round one of the highly-anticipated Wednesday-night smackdown went to NBC, with Bionic Woman opening to an impressive 5.7 at 9 p.m. (more than 20% over internal NBC projections). Its lead-out, Life, surprised industry executives inside and out of NBC with a respectable 4.0, although the show did lose some steam on the half-hour. Still, with the two rookies doing so well, Fox’s Kevin Reilly, who developed the duo, had to be quietly smiling somewhere.
ABC’s Private Practice did a very strong 5.2 against Bionic, although ABC was probably hoping that number would have been a little loftier. Having two new shows debut above a 5 in the same slot is also good news for network TV in general these days.
This Wednesday now brings one of the most-anticipated debuts of the season as the industry finds out if viewers embrace the high-concept and critically adored Pushing Daisies.
Wednesday night also demonstrated the challenges for The CW coming out of a summer in which it was dead silent. Gossip Girl got run over at 9 p.m., and the network may have to move it sooner than later. Flipping its Monday and Wednesday schedules is one solution.
Thursday’s preliminary numbers saw an interesting 9 p.m. hour, with Grey’s Anatomy returning big but off from last season’s premiere, while CSI and The Office both impressed.
At 10, ABC rookie Big Shots squandered too much of Grey’s lead-in, while Without a Trace returned to the slot with a familiar first-place finish.