'Heroes' supplies late kick

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NEW YORK -- ABC and NBC tied for the win last week in the key adults 18-49 demographic. Added viewers from two plays of "Heroes" boosted NBC to a tie in the ratings, with a slight numerical lead for ABC.

Thanks to a rule change this season by Nielsen Media Research, NBC was able to add viewers from a Saturday replay of "Heroes" while throwing out a low-rated primetime hour. While the other networks cried foul, "Heroes" jumped to 17 million viewers and a 7.3 rating/17 share in the adults 18-49 for the Monday broadcast, a significant change from last week's preliminary estimate of 14.1 million viewers and a 6.5/17.

That gave NBC a boost of about two-tenths of a rating point for the week, enough to equal ABC's 3.9 rating. Without the little extra from "Heroes," ABC would have won outright. It also was the first time in more than 10 years that ABC had won the first week of the TV season in viewership; CBS came in second.

It wasn't clear whether "Heroes" would be the first and last show to be able to take advantage of the rule change, which Nielsen instituted at the beginning of the season to be able to give networks credit for ever-changing viewing patterns. Nielsen scheduled meetings this week to discuss the change, and some in the broadcast industry predicted that the rule probably wouldn't stand the way it is currently written. Nielsen said Tuesday that it is looking at the situation.

Beyond the "Heroes" ratings intrigue, there were few hits among new and returning shows in the 2007-08 TV season's first week.

The Big Four dropped 10% in the adults 18-49 demo, with Fox and CBS registering 13% declines compared with premiere week last year; ABC was down 11%, and NBC lost 3%. The networks were down about 8% combined in viewers compared with last year, led by NBC's 10% drop, followed by CBS (9%), Fox (8%) and ABC (3%).

But this year's Nielsen sample has 20% of its households with DVRs, and the impact of playback for such shows as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Office" -- all on in the same hour this year -- has yet to be determined. Seven-day viewing ratings won't begin to come out until later this month, but it could mean that several shows would end up being up in the ratings when DVR ratings are factored in.

Judging from the results of the first week, only NBC's "Bionic Woman" (13.9 million, 5.7/14) and ABC's "Private Practice" (14.4 million, 5.2/13) had any claim to legitimate phenom status. The fate of the rest of the shows -- from NBC's "Life" (9.9 million, 4.0/11) on down -- will be determined later on in the season, and opinions were mixed about how the shows would fare.

The week started with the first of three nights of "Dancing With the Stars" (21.2 million, 5.8/15), which gave ABC a boost in viewership and the demo but couldn't hold on to the win for the night thanks to "Heroes."

Other shows, from CBS' "CSI: Miami" (15.1 million, 4.6/12) to "Two and a Half Men" (13.6 million, 4.8/11), showed year-to-year declines. The Eye's "Rules of Engagement" (12.2 million, 4.5/10) was up compared with last year in the time period, while it remained to be seen whether NBC's two freshman shows, "Chuck" (9.2 million, 3.6/9) and "Journeyman" (9.2 million, 3.5/9), have what it takes to survive. CBS' sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" (9.5 million, 3.7/9) did all right in a tough spot against "Dancing."

Tuesday went to Fox, whose "House" (18.3 million, 7.8/19) caught fire with viewers and challenged ABC's "Dancing" (18.5 million, 4.8/13) to become the third-highest-ranked show last week in the demographic. It also was Fox's highest-rated drama season premiere since "The X-Files" in November 2000 and the highest-rated telecast without an "American Idol" lead-in. "Bones" (8.4 million, 3.3/9) showed a week-to-week gain.

NBC's "Law & Order: SVU" (12.1 million, 4.8/13) was down year-over-year but still was enough to beat the premiere of CBS' "Cane" (11.2 million, 3.0/8).

Wednesday proved, at least during Premiere Week, that a big audience could go to three networks with the strong premieres of NBC's "Bionic Woman" (13.9 million, 5.7/14), ABC's "Private Practice" (14.4 million, 5.2/13) as well as the viewership for CBS' "Criminal Minds" (12.7 million, 3.5/9).

Neither ABC nor NBC could do as well for the respective 10 p.m. premieres of "Dirty Sexy Money" (10.4 million, 3.6/10) and "Life" (9.9 million, 4.0/11), however. CBS grew its demo performance with "CSI: NY" (12.7 million, 3.7/10). Wednesday also had the third consecutive "Dancing" (16.8 million, 4.1/12), which came out ahead of the second weeks of both CBS' "Kid Nation" (7.6 million, 2.8/8) and Fox's "Back to You" (7.5 million, 2.8/9).

Thursday showed similar promise, with the three networks getting respectable ratings in the 9 p.m. battleground. "CSI" (25.2 million, 8.2/19) was up year-to-year for its premiere, while "Grey's" (20.9 million, 8.8/21) was down but still huge. NBC got a strong number for the premiere of "The Office" (9.6 million, 5.1/12). All three also were likely to go up because of DVR viewership. CBS' "Without a Trace" (16.7 million, 4.7/13) prevailed at 10 p.m. against the premiere of ABC's "Big Shots" (11.1 million, 4.5/12) as well as NBC's "ER" (9.9 million, 4.1/11).

CBS won Friday, but its two returning shows, "Ghost Whisperer" (8.7 million, 2.4/9) and "Numbers" (9.4 million, 2.6/8), were down year-to-year, and "Moonlight" (8.5 million, 2.5/8) didn't do as well as expected against a two-hour premiere of NBC's "Las Vegas" (9.3 million, 2.5/8).

Saturday went to Fox, while Sunday belonged to NBC with a high-profile New York Giants-Philadelphia Eagles matchup on "Sunday Night Football" (15 million, 6.2/16), even though ABC's premiere of "Desperate Housewives" (19.3 million, 7.5/17) beat it handily in viewership and adults 18-49. "Housewives" beat the second week of CBS' "Cold Case" (13.7 million, 3.4/8), while the second-season premiere of ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" (12.8 million, 4.9/13) beat CBS' "Shark" (11.3 million, 2.6/7).

ABC (11.9 million, 3.9/11) won the week in viewership and adults 18-49, while NBC (9.9 million, 3.9/11) tied in the demo. CBS (11.7 million, 3.4/9) was close behind ABC in viewership, followed by Fox (6.9 million, 2.7/8), the CW (2.8 million, 1.1/3) and MyNetworkTV (850,000, 0.4/10).
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