'24' return hit by Patriots missile

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NEW YORK -- Jack Bauer survived tangles with both the Chinese goverment and the AFC divisional championships Sunday, as the two-hour season premiere of "24" lost ground against the tail end of the Chargers-Patriots game but recovered to challenge ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

It was a big night for broadcast TV, which saw a drop in viewership for "Desperate Housewives" to its lowest-rated original episode ever in the face of both "24" and the attention-getting interview with President Bush on "60 Minutes" and diminished fortunes for NBC's "Grease: You're The One That I Want" in its second week after a surprisingly good premiere. And NBC was buried by "Brothers & Sisters" and "Without a Trace" for the season premiere of "Crossing Jordan." The preliminary ratings data was released Monday by Nielsen Media Research; final data will be released Tuesday.

CBS had an immense start to the night with the Patriots-Chargers game that lasted an hour and 20 minutes into primetime, with 33.6 million viewers tuning in between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. The game affected everything between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. but it was especially profound for the two-hour premiere of "24" which was down slightly compared with last year's premiere. "24" averaged 15.7 million viewers and a 6.1 rating/14 share in adults 18-49, Nielsen Media Research said.

The first hour of "24" averaged 15.1 million viewers and a 5.8/13 in adults 18-49, which was still the non-NFL favorite between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. but down 21% compared to the premiere a year ago. But it rose steadily after the game ended at 8:20 p.m. ET, scoring 16.2 million viewers and a 6.3/14 in the demo between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. That was only 6% off of last year's 6.7/14 demo rating in the second hour, when it was also against "Desperate Housewives." The second hour was the highest-rated hour for the show since the Jan. 16, 2006, premiere and was up 5% compared with last year's 15.5 million viewers.

Fox had its highest-rated Sunday night since March 2003 and most-watched Sunday night since February 2003.

"Desperate Housewives" (16.7 million, 6.8/15) is down 28% compared with last year's episode that went up against "24" too. This year it also had to deal with Scott Pelley's exclusive interview with Bush that highlighted "60 Minutes" (approximately 17.2 million, 4.7/10), which was an hour and a half late due to football.

NBC also had its problems due to football, with "Deal or No Deal" (9.2 million, 2.4/6) coming out ahead of ABC's "America's Funniest Home Videos" (8 million, 2.3/6) as the top non-football show between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. But "Grease: You're The One That I Want" (8.2 million, 2.7/6) was down 37% from last week's premiere and "The Apprentice: Los Angeles" (7.3 million, 2.8/6) again couldn't hold the "Grease" lead-in and dropped 32% compared with its debut a week ago. The network was still up compared with NBC's performance last year during the same night.

The 10 p.m. hour was split by CBS and ABC, whose "Without a Trace" (approximately 14.4 million, 4.1/10) and "Brothers & Sisters" (12.5 million, 4.5/10) far overshadowed the season premiere of NBC's "Crossing Jordan" (6.8 million, 2.2/5). "Crossing Jordan" was down 41% compared with its Sept. 25, 2005, premiere when it averaged a 3.7/9.

Nightly averages: ABC (11.9 million, 4.5/10); CBS (22 million, 7.0/16); NBC (7.8 million, 2.5/6); Fox (12 million, 4.7/11); and The CW (2.6 million, 1.0/2).
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