After topping the summer ratings with swashbuckling reality shows like Survivor and Big Brother, CBS appears to have answered critics who thought the network would simply return to its mediocre, AARP-friendly normalcy this fall.
So much for that. With five new shows winning their time periods--and returning hits like Everybody Loves Raymond scoring record numbers--CBS ruled the first week of the new season, drawing an average of 14.5 million viewers and nabbing top numbers in households and adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The network's most promising rookie show turned out to be C.S.I., the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced series that debuted Friday night to 17.3 million viewers, making it the most-watched new series of the week. The show, which revolves around the sleuth work of Las Vegas forensics specialists, nabbed an 11.8 household rating and 21 share. (Not too shabby for a series that initially seemed overshadowed by its well-publicized lead-in, The Fugitive.)
C.S.I. joined a handful of new shows that delivered promising first-week numbers for the networks.
CBS also nabbed time-period wins for new shows like Yes, Dear, The Fugitive, That's Life and The District. On Fox, James Cameron's mega-budget premiere of the futuristic thriller Dark Angel was the second most-watched new show of the week, drawing 17.4 million viewers (11.2 rating, 17 share)--albeit on a night that offered little competition other than the presidential debates.
ABC, meanwhile, limped into premiere week with two new sitcoms, but it remained a contender in the ratings race, thanks to Regis Philbin. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire wound up below only Everybody Loves Raymond and The West Wing in Nielsen's top 10, and Tuesday's episode nabbed a week-high 14.1 rating and 22 share.
But its performance dropped slightly among adults 18-49 from last year's premiere week, leading some to wonder whether Regis will remain invincible this season.
The network's new Friday sitcoms yielded mixed results. The Trouble with Normal sank, drawing a 4.6 household rating and 8 share, while Gabriel Byrne's new series Madigan Men was the best performer of the network's retooled Friday-night lineup, drawing a 5.9 rating and 10 share.
Meanwhile, NBC scored big with Sunday night's debut of the critically acclaimed dramedy, Ed. The series, starring Tom Cavanagh, drew 16.5 million viewers for a 10.7 household rating and a 16 share. But the Peacock's best performance of the week came from its Emmy-winning Oval Office series, The West Wing, which trounced everything in its path and drew some 25 million viewers to debut atop the Nielsens.
Overall, CBS topped the week with a 10.0 household rating and 16 share, followed by ABC with 12.9 million viewers (8.9 rating, 15 share). Despite its West Wing win, NBC slipped into third place with 11 million viewers (7.6 rating, 12 share), while Fox nabbed fourth place with 8.8 million viewers (6.1 rating, 10 share).
In the race for fifth place, the WB's premieres, including record-setting numbers for Charmed and an impressive debut for 7th Heaven, pushed the network into a tie with the WWF-powered UPN. Both nets grabbed a 3.1 household rating and 5 share, but UPN still managed to put the smackdown on the WB in total viewers (4.7 million vs. 4.6 million) and among adults 18-49 (2.2/6 vs. 2.0/5).
Which means The Gilmore Girls may make a great team for the WB, but they're not quite WWF tag-team material. Not yet, at least.
(A ratings point represents 1,008,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 100.8 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of turned-on TVs tuned to a particular show.)
Here's a rundown of Nielsen's top 10 by households:
1. The West Wing, NBC, 16.3 rating, 25 share
2. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 14.6 rating, 21 share
3. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (Tuesday), ABC, 14.1 rating, 22 share
4. Millionaire (Thursday), ABC, 13.7 rating, 22 share
5. Millionaire (Wednesday), ABC, 13.4 rating, 21 share
6. Millionaire (Sunday), ABC, 13.1 rating 19 share
7. 60 Minutes, CBS, 12.8 rating, 20 share
8. C.S.I., CBS, 11.8 rating, 21 share
9. NFL Monday Night Football, ABC, 11.4 rating, 19 share
10. Dark Angel, Fox, 11.2 rating, 17 share