Viewers Turn Out for Start of Broadcast TV’s Fall Season

Sep 23, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The bottom didn’t fall out from under network television Monday night.
That’s the take-away from the first ratings report of the 2008-09 season, which had been preceeded by weeks of higher-than-normal anxiety levels among network executives. Their fear: A hangover from last winter’s writers strike, combined with a shortened development season, would result in a ratings collapse for the Big Five this fall.
It’s too early to say if the networks are out of the woods yet, but the first night of Nielsen numbers had “good news for everyone,” as one senior network executive put it Tuesday.
Indeed, overall the Big Five attracted a combined 48.3 million viewers, up by 1.3 million compared with the same night in 2007. (For specific ratings results, click here.)
ABC and CBS has the most reason to smile. ABC won the night in total viewers on the strength of a two-hour “Dancing With the Stars,” while CBS turned strong performances by its comedies and “CSI: Miami” into a narrow victory in adults 18-49. The latter result marked the first time CBS has won premiere Monday in the demo since 2002.
CBS—and executives at 20th Century Fox TV and Twentieth Television—were likely slack-jawed over the the debut numbers for underdog sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” whose fourth-season premiere ranked as the show’s highest-rated premiere ever among adults 18-49.
“HIMYM” soared 21% from its 2007 premiere, although the show aired in an earlier 8 p.m. timeslot at the beginning of last season. The strong start comes as Twentieth is selling the show in syndication.
The numbers were less impressive for the debut of CBS’ newest comedy, “Worst Week.” Despite extensive marketing and strong awareness numbers, the single-camera comedy lost nearly 4 million viewers from its “Two and a Half Men” lead-in and fell a disturbing 28% in the demo.
CBS executives have to be disappointed that more viewers opted against sampling the show, especially since “CSI: Miami” was strong at 10 p.m., improving by 13% from its 2007 premiere.
However, there’s reason to think “Worst Week” could still grow in coming weeks. Its premiere was up against two much-anticipated returning shows (“Heroes,” “DWTS”) and those series tend to see their audiences shrink a bit after their opening weeks.
As for “Heroes,” the results were decidedly mixed. The show was down 25% from its sophomore season premiere—but that was when the series was riding a crest of popularity. A creative slump led the show’s ratings to decline throughout the rest of its strike-shortened second season, and Monday’s premiere number matched exactly the result “Heroes” earned with its December 2007 season finale.
NBC has invested heavily in marketing the return of “Heroes,” and executives at the network no doubt dreamt of stronger numbers for the premiere. The real test will be whether the show holds on to its premiere audience in coming weeks.
ABC’s “DWTS,” meanwhile, turned the lights back on Monday nights for the network, which has struggled on the night during the summer. The reality competition’s overall audience was down from last year, but helped the network score its best premiere night tune-in since 1999.
As expected, The CW’s “Gossip Girl” and “One Tree Hill”—which got off to a fast start earlier this month—took a bit of a hit against stronger competition. Still, both shows held up well enough to allow the “CW Is Back” storyline to continue a while longer.
Fox wasn’t in the game on Monday, with its dramas posting lackluster numbers. The network likely will muddle through on the night until January, when “24” should bring some sizzle back to its Monday sked.


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