NBC's fits and starts

New shows 'Kings,' 'Chopping' begin weakly

NBC took a 1-2 punch in the ratings last week as two of its new shows opened to modest numbers.

The debuts of the Sunday night drama "Kings" and Wednesday cooking competition "The Chopping Block" underline how a fourth-place position makes its difficult to bring an audience to a new show. With the network turning over its 10 p.m. hour to Jay Leno's talk show in the fall, the premieres could hint as to how new programs might be received.

Of course, the issue also could be the shows. Critics hacked apart "Chopping Block" (3.8 million viewers, 1.4 rating/ 4 share in adults 18-49). Meanwhile, the alternate-universe setting of "Kings" (6.1 million, 1.6/4) has made the concept a tricky pitch on a night when the network has struggled to gain momentum.

NBC's week was highlighted by the return of several original cast members to Thursday's "ER" (10.9 million, 4.0/11), bumping the ratings to the show's highest in two years, and the softening of Sunday's "The Celebrity Apprentice" (6.8 million, 2.8/7).

Fox won the week as usual, though top-rated drama "House" (12.4 million, 4.8/13) hit a four-year low Monday against ABC's hugely rated "Dancing With the Stars" (22.8 million, 6.1/15) premiere. "Dancing" had its biggest premiere audience in five years, and the new mystery drama "Castle" (10.8 million, 3.0/8) had a solid debut at 10 p.m.

Fox's "American Idol" perked up last week, however, with episodes Tuesday (25.8 million, 9.5/25) and Wednesday (25.6 million, 9.1/23) demonstrating clear gains. Plus, Friday night's "Dollhouse" (4.3 million, 1.6/5) ceased its weekly erosion and climbed slightly in the ratings for the first time.

CBS placed second in the demo, delivering 10 of the week's 15 most-watched shows. The network's "Survivor: Tocantins" (12.8 million, 4.1/12) bounced back with "Idol" vacating Thursday night, but "CSI" (17.1 million, 4.2/11) tied its lifetime low. In third, ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" (13.6 million, 5.0/12) and "Private Practice" (8.6 million, 3.3/9) continued to perform strong. In fifth place, the CW saw the second week of "America's Next Top Model" (4.5 million, 1.9/6) rise a bit. (partialdiff)