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ABC, CBS lead the way in first week of new television season

Updated:
NEW YORK (AP) _ Viewers flocked to old favorites ``CSI: Crime Scene Investigation'' and ``Desperate Housewives'' and tried out new fare ``My Name is Earl'' and ``Everybody Hates Chris'' in the first week of television's new season.

The season began like the old one left off: ABC is hot, NBC is not and CBS remains the nation's most popular network.

Intense interest in ``Desperate Housewives'' (28.4 million viewers) and ``Lost'' (23.5 million) led ABC to its best first-week performance in five years. It was the first time since 1995 that ABC won the first week among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic most important to advertisers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

ABC had five of the week's 10 most popular programs.

``ABC probably did as well or better than we expected,'' said Steve Sternberg, an analyst for the ad buying firm Magna Global. ``CBS and NBC were about what we expected would happen.''

CBS is still the top network but, like NBC, its household ratings were down 7 percent compared to the first week last year. CBS' Monday lineup lost potency with the end of ``Everybody Loves Raymond,'' while ``Survivor'' hasn't started out as strong as in years past.

``NCIS,'' which had a strong summer, debuted to a series-high rating. CBS also strengthened its dominance on Thursday nights, the most lucrative night in the business because advertisers such as movie studios are looking for people making weekend plans.

NBC's ``My Name is Earl'' was a bright spot, the most popular sitcom of the week. But the network had a disastrous Thursday _ the night its ``must-see TV'' lineup once dominated _ with ``Friends'' spinoff ``Joey,'' ``The Apprentice'' and ``ER'' showing erosion.

``You could see this coming,'' said Sharianne Brill, analyst for Carat USA. ``You could see this coming five years ago. If you don't build for the future, you get in trouble.''

NBC was the fourth-most popular network last season, and finished third last week. That's because Fox doesn't start ``American Idol'' until January.

Fox is doing better than last year at this time because, unlike in 2004, they have already debuted many of their new series. But in ``Head Cases'' (3.1 million viewers), Fox has the distinction of the year's first canceled series.

It was a tough week for Martha Stewart. Not only did her NBC version of ``The Apprentice'' debut to a tiny audience of a little more than 7 million, but fewer than 7.5 million were curious enough to see CBS's movie dramatization ``Martha Behind Bars.''

UPN's ``Everybody Hates Chris'' had a terrific first week. It beat ``Joey'' head-to-head with 7.8 million viewers, numbers almost unheard of for UPN.

Analysts cautioned against reading too much into one week of numbers. Shows like CBS' ``The Amazing Race'' and ``Without a Trace'' haven't premiered yet. Heavy promotion, and the presence of popular stars Chris Rock and Jason Lee, brought viewers to the premieres of ``Chris'' and ``Earl.''

``You can have all the buzz in the world, and all that is going to do is get viewers to episode one,'' Sternberg said. ``Now a show is going to have to live and die on its own.''

One positive sign for television: TV usage was up 5 percent compared to a year ago, Sternberg said.

For the week, CBS averaged 12.9 million viewers (8.3 rating, 13 share), ABC had 12.3 million (8.0, 13), NBC 9.9 million (6.6, 11), Fox 6.5 million (4.1, 6), UPN 4.2 million (2.7, 4), the WB 3.3 million (2.2, 3) and Pax TV 560,000 (0.4, 1).

In a busy week leading up to Hurricane Rita's landfall, NBC's ``Nightly News'' won the evening news ratings race, averaging 9.6 million viewers (6.8, 14). ABC's ``World News Tonight'' had 8.9 million viewers (6.2, 12) and the ``CBS Evening News'' 7.2 million (5.0, 10).

A ratings point represents 1,102,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 110.2 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Sept. 19-25, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: ``CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,'' CBS, 29 million; ``Desperate Housewives,'' ABC, 28.4 million; ``Lost,'' ABC, 23.5 million; ``Criminal Minds,'' CBS, 19.6 million; ``CSI: Miami,'' CBS, 19.2 million; ``Grey's Anatomy,'' ABC, 19 million; ``Survivor: Guatemala,'' CBS, 17 million; ``Law & Order: SVU,'' NBC, 16.8 million; ``Invasion,'' ABC, 16.4 million; ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,'' ABC, 16.4 million.
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