The bows are blase

Little to be happy about after premiere week

Wall Street in chaos. A historic presidential election. And in the background, some TV shows premiered.

After a sleepy summer, the broadcast networks returned to full primetime strength just in time to be overshadowed by real-world events that seemed like something out of a Hollywood script.

Networks sure didn't forget. ABC (a preliminary 12.2 million viewers, 3.8/10 in the 18-49 demo) took its fourth consecutive premiere week, stopping NBC's recent post-Olympics winning streak. Yet neither ABC nor its major competitors felt entirely comfortable with its standing. All had key shows that were down compared with last year, and three out of five posted lower overall ratings.

With the possible exception of Fox's "Fringe" and the CW's "90210," no new shows have clearly broken out. With DVR market penetration climbing from 20% last year to 28% last week, returning series were often coming back to year-over-year declines, with "down 10%" being the new flat.

ABC pair "Grey's Anatomy" (18.5 million, 7.4/18) and "Desperate Housewives" (18.7 million, 7.1/16) were the highest-rated shows of the week, generating the biggest scripted-series numbers seen since the first quarter. Still, both dropped from their 2007 bows.

NBC (8.3 million, 3.3/9) placed second for the week, powered by the NFL's "Sunday Night Football" (17.3 million, 6.9/17) and the return of its cornerstone Monday sci-fi drama "Heroes" (10.1 million, 5.0/12). Yet the series tumbled a precarious 25%.

The net used "Heroes" to launch the Season 2 premiere of "Life" (6.9 million, 2.7/7) this week. Overall, NBC dropped the most during premiere week, about 15%.

CBS (11.3 million, 3.1/8) was powered by the return of its Monday comedy block and "CSI: Miami" (17.2 million, 5.2/13). At first, the network bucked the premiere week trend and improved many of its shows, even as new titles "Worst Week" (10.9 million, 3.8/8) and "Gary Unmarried" (6.8 million, 2.4/7) had disappointing debuts. It was off 9% for the week.

Fox (7.5 million, 3.0/8) had the ongoing strength of "House" (12.4 million, 5.1/14) and "Fringe" (9.4 million, 4.1/10). The net was up 11% from premiere week last year.

Last-place CW (averaging 2.9 million, 1.3/3) has enjoyed the sunniest headlines this fall, boosting its week 18% compared with last year thanks to strengthening its time periods with "90210" (2.9 million, 1.5/4) and "Gossip Girl" (3.3 million, 1.6/4).

Overall, broadcast was down only 3% in the adult demo compared with premiere week last year, though this round was skewed by the first presidential debate.(partialdiff)