B'casters get ready to ratings rumble

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With broadcasters' fall plans set, here are some of the more dramatic time-period battles shaping up.

Sundays at 9 p.m. "Desperate Housewives" vs. "Three Rivers." What could possibly lure female viewers away from ABC's top-rated soap? CBS has an idea: Ex-"Moonlight" star Alex O'Loughlin.

Prediction: ABC will win, but CBS could make a bigger "Housewives" dent with "Rivers" than with "Cold Case" this season.

Tuesdays at 9 p.m. "So You Think You Can Dance" vs. "Dancing With the Stars." ABC and Fox will go toe-to-toe Tuesdays for dance supremacy. This pits the second hour of Fox's dancing performance show against ABC's dancing results show (with NBC's reality hit "The Biggest Loser" putting pressure on both).

Prediction: Performance shows rate higher than results shows. But in total viewers, this will be no contest, with "Dancing" outmaneuvering Fox's fall newbie. In the 18-49 demo, things could be closer. As long as Fox's "Dance" manages to pull the same ratings it does in the summer, the network won't mind playing second fiddle.

Wednesdays at 8 p.m. "Hank" and "The Middle" vs. "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and "Gary Unmarried." It's not often one sees comedies vs. comedies on broadcast anymore. In this case, the sophomore run of CBS' modestly performing Wednesday block will face the first half of ABC's ambitious new two-hour block, with 1990s sitcom stars Kelsey Grammer ("Hank") and Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Christine") going head-to-head.

Prediction: ABC has a shot, but its sitcoms need to average higher ratings than those they launched in midseason to overthrow CBS.

Thursdays at 8 p.m. "Flash Forward" vs. "Survivor," "Bones" and NBC comedies. A sci-fi-ish drama at 8 p.m. to lead into ABC's female-heavy medical soaps? The more one looks at this, the more it makes sense. "Forward" brings unique content to the hour. "Lost," which ABC also launched at 8 p.m., repeatedly has proved to the net that it's a scheduling island — a drama ignoring its lead-in and lead-out. It's not unreasonable to think "Forward" could draw a stand-alone audience.

Prediction: "Survivor" is still the favorite, but "Forward" likely will overthrow NBC's comedies and possibly "Bones."

Thursdays at 9 p.m. "Fringe" vs. TV's toughest. For its second season, Fox is taking "Fringe" from the most sheltered time period on broadcast (after "American Idol") to the most competitive (against CBS' "CSI," ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and NBC's "The Office"). When the network put "Hell's Kitchen" here this season, executives embraced a lower rating in exchange for a foothold on Thursdays, when ad rates are highest. But "Hell's" was a proven performer; "Fringe" is less certain.

Prediction: "Fringe" won't embarrass itself, but unless "CSI" continues to drop sharply, which is possible, the thriller will have a tough time unseating one of its three main competitors.

Fridays at 9 p.m. "Southland" vs. "Medium" vs. "Dollhouse" vs. "Ugly Betty." Is this lineup for real? This time slot is like the Island of Misfit Toys. Suddenly, there are four original scripted dramas at 9 p.m. Fridays, and all are castaways to some extent.

Prediction: "Medium" is such a perfect fit for this slot — nestled between CBS' top-rated "Ghost Whisperer" and "Numbers" — it's scary. Going against three scripted shows and getting a " 'Til Death" lead-in isn't helping "Dollhouse." "Betty" will continue to soften, but "Southland" could do a decent number depending on its quality.

Weeknights at 10 p.m. "The Jay Leno Show" vs. ABC and CBS dramas. The outcome is agreed upon: "Leno" will come in last place. But everybody wants to know: by how much?

Prediction: The first week should do pretty well because of curiosity. After that, the ratings are anybody's guess, with another mystery being how the rest of late-night performs after Leno's leapfrog. (partialdiff)
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