Sure, NBC has Friends, but, as of right now, CBS has more friends.

The Eyeball edged the Peacock to claim victory in the first week of the 2002-03 prime-time ratings race.

As has become its way, ABC trailed in third (but not as badly as it trailed during the disaster that was the 2001-02 season), followed by Fox and the rest of the netlets (WB, UPN and Pax).

Overall, CBS programs averaged 13.9 million viewers. The network placed five shows in the top 10, including two episodes of the recently Emmy'd Everybody Loves Raymond.

NBC, last season's ratings champ, proved to be no chump, averaging 13.4 million viewers and grabbing five Top 10 spots. Friends, fresh off its own Emmy win for Outstanding Comedy Series, led the way for the "Must-See" mavens. Thirty-four million fans caught the ninth-season premiere hoping to learn if Rachel, Ross and Joey would sort out the wedding-proposal mess. (Answer: Sort of.)

Milking the sitcom for everything its worth (which is a lot, considering the stars' $1 million-an-episode salaries), NBC said today it planned to stretch Friends' Thursday time slot from 8-8:30 p.m., to 8-8:32 p.m. (the better to trick, er, encourage audiences not to tune out whatever follows).

As whopping as Friends' whopping premiere numbers were, Everybody Loves Raymond may have been the sitcom story of the week. Airing two episodes back-to-back on September 23, CBS saw 23.3 million people tune into the first installment (broadcast in the comedy's usual 9 p.m. Monday time slot), and 24 million people tune into the second installment (broadcast in the 9:30 time slot filled this past Monday by the newbie sitcom Still Standing). The show, er, shows were the fifth and fourth most-watched programs of the week, respectively.

Aside from the Raymonds, CBS' top 10 shows were: CSI, the week's top-rated drama (taking second place, with 30.5 million viewers); CSI: Miami, the top-rated new show (sixth place, 23.1 million); and Survivor: Thailand (eighth place, 21.7 million).

Not counting Rachel, et al., NBC's medal winners were: ER (third place, 26.7 million); Scrubs (seventh place, 22.3 million); Will & Grace (ninth place, 21.5 million); and, in a twist, the non-Thursday night entry, Tuesday's own Frasier (10th place, 21.1 million).

If you're keeping score at home, you'll have noticed that, with CBS nabbing five Top 10 spots, and NBC nabbing five spots, there were exactly zero spots left for the other would-be contenders.

ABC, averaging 9.9 million viewers for its week's worth of offerings, came closest to cracking the elite group. Its venerable Monday Night Football franchise powered its way to 11th place, scoring with 19.1 million viewers. Fourth-place Fox's highest-rated show was That '70s Show, boogying to 46th with 8.9 million. (Overall, Fox averaged 7.1 million viewers.)

The WB, winning its weekly battle for fifth-place bragging rights with UPN (averaging 4.5 million viewers, to the latter's 4.2 million), climbed into the top 50 with Smallville (49th place, 8.7 million). UPN's top performer was the pile-driving WWE Smackdown (75th place, 6 million).

Among the also-rans, ABC, cold off last year's disastrous performance, is perhaps under the most pressure to make the best of its so-so numbers. In its weekly ratings recap, the network declared victory in "four of the most interesting time period match-ups of the new season." (CBS and NBC, apparently, only win the un-interesting time period match-ups.)

To be sure, ABC, which couldn't launch a new show to save Jason Alexander's prime-time life last year, is heading in the right direction with a pair of freshman sitcoms, John Ritter's 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (30th place, 12.8 million) and Life with Bonnie (34th place, 11.3 million).

The network also appears to have developed a steady, near-top 20 hit with Damon Wayans' My Wife and Kids (21st place, 14.8 million). Look for Wayans' show, now in its third season, to be tested later this month when Fox's Bernie Mac Show finally makes it off the bench and launches its second season, following the baseball playoffs.

If tests are the topic, ABC's much-pushed Push, Nevada and its time-traveling drama That Was Then are failing theirs. Push, cocreator Ben Affleck's attempt to channel David Lynch, sunk to 89th place (4.5 million); That Was Then finished in 91st (4.3 million). Not even the ABC spinmeisters could spin much positive out of those numbers--the two shows were virtually ignored in the network's ratings press release.

Also not rating mentions (a sure sign that your show is not long for the schedule): Drew Carey's two prime-time contributions, his self-titled sitcom (76th place, 5.9 million); and Whose Line Is It Anyway? (77th place, 5.7 million).

In other ratings highlights:

Among freshman series, NBC's Good Morning, Miami (13th place, 17.5 million), American Dreams (22nd place, 13.9 million), Boomtown (25th place, 13.5 million) and CBS' taxi-cab-driven Hack (29th place, 12.9 million) all got off to top 30 starts. Writer-producer Joss Whedon topped himself, with his new Fox sci-fi series, Firefly (80th place, 5.5 million), besting his old reliable UPN series, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (83rd place, 5 million). The WB's sophomore sitcom Off Centre pulled the primetime caboose, ranking 106th out of 106 shows (not counting the stuff on Pax, which nobody watches anyway). On the other hand, Off Centre did manage to attract 1.9 million viewers, which, in the scheme of things, seems like a lot for an abject failure.

Here's a rundown of the 10 most-watched shows for the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research:

1. Friends, NBC, 34 million viewers
2. CSI, CBS, 30.5 million
3. ER, NBC, 26.7 million
4. Everybody Loves Raymond (9:30 p.m. Monday), CBS, 24 million
5. Everybody Loves Raymond (9 p.m. Monday), CBS, 23.3 million
6. CSI: Miami, CBS, 23.1 million
7. Scrubs, NBC, 22.3 million
8. Survivor: Thailand, CBS, 21.7 million viewers
9. Will & Grace, NBC, 21.5 million
10. Frasier, NBC, 21.1 million

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