NBC has a ball on Sunday night

NFL passes all; 'War,' Fox toon premieres also strong

Boosted by a Dallas Cowboys-Chicago Bears matchup on "Sunday Night Football," NBC won Sunday night's primetime against season premieres on CBS, Fox and the CW. But Fox scored on its own with strong performances by "Family Guy," "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill."

Meanwhile, the debut episode of "The War," Ken Burns' new PBS documentary, averaged 7.3 million viewers in its premiere Sunday night.

Final ratings data for the Cowboys-Bears game won't be available until today, but Nielsen Media Research estimated Monday that the game averaged a 13.7 household rating/23 share in the metered markets. It outpaced the rest of the network offerings and was up in the metered markets 28% over last year's New England Patriots-Denver Broncos game, making it the third-best such rating since "SNF" began in 2006.

Even with the NFL casting a long shadow, Fox did well. A one-hour "Star Wars"-themed "Family" averaged 10.7 million viewers and a 5.5/13 in adults 18-49 to place a strong second to "SNF" between 9-10 p.m. Not only was it up compared with last year's season premiere (up 15% in adults 18-49 and 26% in adults 18-34), but it also was the highest ratings for "Family" since it returned to Fox in May 2005.

Primetime began with Fox getting a 15.3 million NFL runover from 7-7:30 p.m., which seemed to dampen the first half-hour of the season premiere of "60 Minutes" (11.4 million, 2.3/7), which included Scott Pelley's interview with Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fox lost viewers at 7:30 p.m. with "The OT" (9.1 million, 4.0/12) but was still ahead of a repeat ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (5.5 million, 1.7/5) as well as the premieres of the CW's "CW Now" (1 million, 0.2/1) and "Online Nation" (994,000, 0.3/1). "60 Minutes" was about even with its season premiere in 2006.

Th 19th-season premiere of "The Simpsons" (9.4 million, 4.7/12), coupled with the season debut of "King of the Hill" (7.7 million, 3.7/9) prevailed against CBS' "Power of 10" (7.5 million, 1.7/4) and the second hour of a repeat "Home Edition" (7.8 million, 2.5/6). "Simpsons" was up 18% in adults 18-49 and 19% in adults 18-34 as well as 9% among viewers to get its highest demo ratings since Jan. 7. "King" was no slouch either, giving Fox its best ratings for the show since Nov. 16, 2003, and up 3% in adults 18-49, up 13% in adults 18-34 and up 5% compared with its time-period premiere Jan. 7. "Power" fell to its lowest adults 18-49 ratings ever.

"Family" was the undisputed nonfootball demo winner of the 9 p.m. hour against the premiere of CBS' "Cold Case" (12.3 million, 3.0/7) and ABC's "Desperate Housewives" clip show (9 million, 3.1/7). "Cold Case" fell 27% from its Sept. 24, 2006, premiere in adults 18-49 and was down significantly from last year's 16.2 million viewers on that date when it premiered in season.

"SNF" was still on top at 10 p.m. against the time-period premiere of CBS' "Shark" (11.5 million, 2.7/7) and ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" clips show (5.2 million, 1.7/4). "Shark," which replaced "Without a Trace" in the 10 p.m. Sunday slot, got eaten alive in the ratings. Its adults 18-49 ratings fell 34% compared with its Thursday premiere Sept. 21, 2006. But it was still far below last year's "Trace" premiere of 17.6 million viewers and a 4.8/12 in 18-49.

PBS said the first episode of "War," its seven-part docu, averaged a 5.0 household rating/7 share in the 56 metered markets, according to preliminary Nielsen estimates.

That is on par with the opener of "Baseball," Burns' highly rated 1994 docu series for PBS, which had a 5.1 household rating. (The premiere of Burns' "The Civil War" in 1990 brought in a 9.0 rating, a record for PBS.)

At least 15.5 million people tuned in for at least part of "War," which ran from 8-10:30 p.m. against "SNF" and the season premieres on CBS and Fox.

With the addition of a second airing nationwide, the first episode averaged 18.7 million viewers total, PBS said. The first episode received strong ratings in several markets, including Minneapolis-St. Paul (11.3/17), Seattle (10.6/17), San Francisco (8.4/15) and New York (6.7/11).

For Sunday night, NBC averaged 14.2 million viewers and a 5.8 rating/15 share in adults 18-49, followed by CBS (10.7 million, 2.4/6), Fox (10.5 million, 4.9/13), ABC (6.9 million, 2.3/6) and the CW (1.3 million, 0.5/1).