CBS laughs, though Fox laughs last

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Fox won its 11th consecutive week in the Nielsen ratings, but the return of CBS' comedy block captured the most headlines.

The Monday night sitcoms represented the first batch of fall scripted series to return to the air after the writers strike. The performances solved several questions: Would overall viewership return to previous levels? Would viewers remember an interrupted freshman show like "The Big Bang Theory" in particular? Can "How I Met Your Mother," which is on the bubble for a fall renewal, come back with a strong enough number to justify a pickup?

In each case the answer was a firm yes, as CBS surprised the industry with strong across-the-board results as several shows hit season highs. Whether more serialized shows such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Office" also return at full strength in the coming weeks remains to be seen.

Overall, Fox led the week with Tuesday's "American Idol" (27.3 million viewers, 10.4 rating in adults 18-49 and a 26 share), which hit a season low during its annual viewership plateau. In its second week leading into "Idol," the game show "Moment of Truth" (10.9 million, 4.2/12) maintained its rating despite increased competition from CBS' "Survivor." On the downside, Fox's midseason scripted efforts struggled, and the network shoved "Canterbury's Law" (5.7 million, 1.7/5) from Mondays to Fridays and got rid of "The Return of Jezebel James" (3.1 million, 1.1/4) altogether.

CBS was second, with most of its comedy block landing among the top 10 shows. "Two and a Half Men" led the pack (14 million, 5.4/13), followed by "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (11.5 million, 4.3/11) and "How I Met Your Mother" (9.6 million, 4.3/11).

ABC came in third as "Dancing With the Stars" (21.1 million, 5.6/15) returned Monday but was down slightly from last year. ABC's Sunday night freshman reality shows, "Oprah's Big Give" (9.8 million, 3.4/9) and "Here Come the Newlyweds" (6.7 million, 2.8/8), seemed to halt their postpremiere drops and helped the network continue to dominate the night. The premiere of the sitcom "Miss Guided" (9.3 million, 2.7/8) lost a large chunk of its "Dancing" lead in, then struggled when it was shifted to Thursdays.

With CBS and ABC's heavy hitters coming back, the party is over for NBC, which had squeaked out second-place finishes in recent weeks with its reality slate. "Medium" (10 million, 3.3/9) was the network's top show, followed by "Celebrity Apprentice" (8.8 million, 3.2/8) and "The Biggest Loser" (7.9 million, 3.2/8).

On the CW, "America's Next Top Model" (3.8 million, 1.8/5) was the highest-rated show.
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