Monday night ball

'Gossip Girl,' 'One Tree Hill' power the CW

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 its history as "Gossip Girl" hit a 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 first two episodes. The stronger lead-in boosted "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 off 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 — 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 been impervious to mounting competition.

For the period of Sept. 8-14, 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 (17.8 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 second, with the two-hour premiere of "Fringe" (9.1 million, 3.2/9) leading the way. The first regular episode of "Kitchen Nightmares" this season (6.2 million, 2.9/8) had respectable numbers Thursday night, while the new series "Hole in the Wall" (5.4 million, 2.3/8) made 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 (11.9 million, 4.7/15) and CBS leading its week with "60 Minutes" (12.5 million, 3.0/8). The CW (2.7 million, 1.2/3) was fifth. (partialdiff)