Big 4 in big fight on Thursday, Monday

WRAP: After numerous moves, Thursday more competetive than ever

Overview: Patterns, measurements define season
Ratings rerun: Fox, CBS on top
Thursday, Monday are battlegrounds
Chart: Final series ranks
Network news makes headlines

NEW YORK -- Schedulingwise, the big story heading into this season was ABC's decision to move "Grey's Anatomy" against CBS powerhouse "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" at 9 p.m. Thursdays. By all accounts, it was a success for "Grey's" and put ABC into the profitable Thursday night mix for the first time since the days of "Barney Miller" and "Mork & Mindy."

ABC also moved rookie "Ugly Betty," originally slotted for Fridays, to the Thursday 8 p.m. hour, where it showed initial success and, later in the season, gave "October Road" a strong start after "Grey's" that earned the series a renewal.

Even Fox, which has never been competitive on Thursdays, turned the lights on midseason with "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"

The result? Thursdays are more competitive than ever.

"Thursday at 8 is approaching parity for the four networks," Fox scheduling czar Preston Beckman said. "That's an opportunity for us down the road."

CBS research chief David Poltrack thinks that CBS and ABC both survived the head-to-head battle at 9 p.m. because of DVRs.

"In a non-DVR world, this would have been a tough situation for the viewer and for CBS in particular because 'Grey's' comes in there and people have to make a decision whether they're going to watch 'CSI' or 'Grey's,' " Poltrack said. "But with DVRs, people were able to watch both." Half the "CSI" viewership comes in playback mode, according to CBS data.

Another night that was infused with new blood this season was Monday, where ABC found post-"Monday Night Football" success with "Dancing With the Stars" and NBC with freshman hit "Heroes." "Heroes" had an impact on Fox's serialized "24," which saw its numbers slide after an explosive season premiere.

"Monday night with the emergence of 'Heroes' and CBS being consistently solid on the night and ABC putting 'Dancing With the Stars' there, that's a very competitive night of television," Beckman said.

Poltrack said the network expected to see some declines with "CSI: Miami," given the fact that "MNF" would go to ESPN and add another strong competitor on the night.

While NBC's primetime fortunes diminished in the second half of the season, its pickup of "Sunday Night Football" helped prop up its fall lineup. A competitor's analysis found that NBC's schedule was up 5% in the fourth quarter thanks to football, while viewership declined 10% in the football-less second half of the season.

"It came along at a good time for them," a rival executive said.