'Gossip Girl,' 'One Tree Hill' propel CW

Network looking good on Monday nights this fall

The perpetual fifth-wheel network is starting to look like a big-league player on Monday nights.

The CW had its highest-rated Monday in the network's history as "Gossip Girl" hit another series high and "One Tree Hill" delivered its strongest number in nearly two years.

The third episode of "Gossip" this season (3.7 million viewers, 2.0 rating/5 share in adults 18-49) was up 18% from its previous two episodes. The stronger lead-in boosted the veteran "Tree" (3.4 million, 1.8/4) at 9 p.m., and the gains put the CW into second place among broadcast networks for the evening.

Fox tied repeat-driven CBS to win the night, but the victory was sullied by ratings declines for two of its dramas. The second week of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (5.6 million, 2.1/6) dropped slightly from last week's premiere, while "Prison Break" (5.8 million, 2.4/6) was down 8% in its third week.

The male-friendly Fox dramas likely took some heat from ESPN's broadcast of the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game on "Monday Night Football."

The game drew the largest cable audience of all time (18.6 million, 7.8/21) and the best "MNF" ratings in three years -- from back when the football franchise aired on broadcast television.

Still, with ABC (which on Monday aired a movie) and CBS (which aired only repeats) turning on the lights next week, Fox's drops could represent problematic cracks in the dam for its serialized Monday shows, whereas CW's young-skewing lineup has seemed impervious so far to mounting competition.

For the week, NBC won its sixth straight week in the demo and total viewers (averaging 8.4 million viewers, 2.6/7) as its "Sunday Night Football" was easily the top telecast (9.5 million, 7.3/19). Also, in late-night, the network touted the best-rated season premiere of "Saturday Night Live" since 2001 (7.5 household rating/18 share).

Fox (averaging 6.2 million, 2.3/7) was only a tenth of a point from tying NBC for the week, with the two-hour premiere of "Fringe" (4.2 million, 3.2/9) leading the way. The first regular episode of "Kitchen Nightmares" this season (3.8 million, 2.9/8) had respectable numbers Thursday night, while the new series "Hole in the Wall" (averaging 5.4 million, 2.3/8) had a modest splash..

ABC (6.3 million, 2.1/6) and CBS (7.4 million, 2.1/6) tied in the demo for third, with ABC getting into the football game with the USC-Ohio State matchup on "Saturday Night Football" (11.9 million, 4.7/15) and CBS leading its week with an episode of "60 Minutes" (12.5 million, 3.0/8). The CW (2.7 million, 1.2/3) was fifth.