Dancing on air

Broadcast season gets off to solid start

Rumors of broadcast television's demise have been exaggerated. The 2008-09 season got off to an impressive start Monday night with the returns of CBS' comedy lineup, NBC's top drama "Heroes" and ABC's reality juggernaut "Dancing With the Stars."

CBS' ratings handily proved that not every returning series is destined to erode in the Nielsen standings, with "Two and Half Men, "How I Met Your Mother" and "CSI: Miami" showing double-digit gains over their premieres last year despite DVR penetration having markedly increased.

The news was not as good for the two-hour premiere of NBC's "Heroes" (10 million viewers, 5.0 rating/12 share among adults 18-49), which was down 25% compared with last year's one-hour opener. Monday's return comes on the heels of a creatively middling second season and the extended nine-month hiatus prompted by the writers strike.

With "Heroes" matching its lowest-rated original episode, CBS seized the premiere week opening-night crown for the first time since 2002, while NBC placed third.

In second place, ABC premiered a two-hour "Dancing With the Stars" (21.3 million, 5.3/13), which was down only 9% from last year and was the night's most-watched show. In fact, it was ABC's most-viewed premiere-week Monday since 1999. The 10 p.m. return of "Boston Legal" (8.8 million, 2.4/6) was on par with last season's bow and placed last in the hour.

Among CBS' overachievers Monday night, tentpole comedy "Two and a Half Men" (14.9 million, 5.3/12) returned up 10% from last year and with its best premiere in four years, while "Mother" (9.8 million, 4.0/10) retained the newfound energy it built poststrike with stunts like the Britney Spears guest appearances; it came back a striking 21% higher than last season. The second-season debut of "The Big Bang Theory" (9.3 million, 3.6/10) was down a tenth, however.

The newest member of CBS' Monday comedy lineup, the well-regarded new comedy "Worst Week" (11 million, 3.8/9), had a modest debut at 9:30 p.m. It lost 21% of its "Men" lead-in, putting a pothole in CBS' comedy block momentum that otherwise built with each successive show. It also was down 16% from the time period last year. Still, the relatively sluggish "Week" did little to hurt the 10 p.m. premiere of "CSI: Miami" (17.2 million, 5.2/12), which nonetheless was up 13% from last season.

Overall, the premiere week kickoff marked an impressive night for CBS that should give some hope (or sleepless nights) to rivals wondering if 2008-09 is inherently going to be lower than last year because of increased DVR penetration and the rise of cable.

Fox placed fourth, with "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (5.9 million, 2.3/6) the lowest-rated show among the major broadcasters, up slightly from last week, followed by "Prison Break" (5.8 million, 2.5/6). (partialdiff)