The battle this fall for dominance on the most lucrative night in television has hardly begun, but the search for viewers on Thursday evening is already turning into a dogfight between “Friends” spinoff “Joey” on NBC and “Survivor: Vanuatu-Island of Fire” on CBS, with more new entries to come this week.
After a solid start Sept. 9, in which it won the week in total viewers and adults 18 to 49, “Joey” fell to second place in its time period Sept. 16. Last week’s 40-minute second episode of “Joey” scored a 7.0 rating and 20 share in adults 18 to 49, down 7 percent from its premiere, and 15.37 million viewers, down 17 percent from the previous week’s 18.55 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
“Joey” was beaten by the return of “Survivor,” now in its ninth installment on CBS. The premiere of “Survivor” scored a 7.8 rating and 22 share in adults 18 to 49 and 20.06 million viewers, a 23 percent edge over “Joey.” In its second half-hour “Survivor” also beat the last 10 minutes of a supersized “Joey” and the first 20 minutes of the “Will & Grace” season premiere in adults 18 to 49 (8.4 versus 7.5).
NBC’s Tom Bierbaum, VP, ratings and program information, saw “Joey’s” glass as half-full, since it retained more than 90 percent of its premiere number in adults 18 to 49. “We were expecting a much higher dropoff with `Survivor,”‘ he said. “So `Joey’ really did exceed our expectations.”
Mr. Bierbaum said he was pleased with “The Apprentice’s” numbers, , since the series rebounded last week from its disappointing premiere week ratings. On its Sept. 9 premiere from 8:38-10 p.m., “Apprentice” came in with a 6.6/17 among adults 18 to 49 and 14.05 million viewers.
Last week, the Donald Trump-led reality show, which ran from 9:20-11 p.m., grew 20 percent in adults 18 to 49 to a 8.3/22 and added almost 2 million viewers, winning the night in the key adult demo. A repeat “CSI” beat “Apprentice” in total viewers (22.32 million), but came in third for the night in adults 18 to 49 with a 7.8/20, behind “Apprentice” and the 40-minute season premiere of “Will & Grace” (8.1/21).
CSI’s incredible strength became clear even in a week when it was in repeats. For the 9:30 p.m. half-hour in which “CSI” and “The Apprentice” battled head-to-head, the “CSI” repeat scored an 8.0 rating in adults 18 to 49, overshadowing “Apprentice’s” 7.6 rating.
“We feel pretty good, especially since two of our starters weren’t on the field yet,” said a CBS spokesman. Those “starters” he referred to are “CSI,” which this week premieres its first new episode of the season, and “Without a Trace,” which begins its new season Thursday at 10 p.m.
“`CSI’ is right now a real hot franchise and this was a great number for them,” said Mr. Bierbaum. “This is going to be a tough competitor this season. This proves there is room on any given night for two powerful lineups. Unfortunately for the other guys, there isn’t that much room for anything else, but they will figure out what to do as the season progresses.”
The CBS effect is already clear, but Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director at Horizon Media, said another network, specifically Fox, might have an impact if the two-way race gets close. “The one thing to look out for is how `The O.C.’ does,” he said. “They won’t do a huge household number, but they may have a young enough comp to effect total viewers.”
Mr. Adgate said that despite the challenges, NBC is in a better position than it has been in past years, where it needed to replace an entire hour due to perennial holes at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. “This year it’s only been one show, albeit a big show: `Friends,”‘ he said. “NBC should be OK on Thursday nights if `Will & Grace’ and `The Apprentice’ and `ER’ perform.”
On Thursday night ABC had mostly reality show repeats, but at 10 p.m. it had a new “Primetime,” which featured an investigative report on Donald Trump. It scored a 1.4 rating/4 percent share in adults 18 to 49, with 5.14 million viewers. It was less than a third of what CBS and NBC drew at the same time.