'Rider' running on empty

NBC redo third in time slot; CBS on hot streak

NBC's "Knight Rider" had starter trouble in the ratings race Wednesday night while CBS continued its premiere week victory lap of year-over-year gains.

Despite having the highest level of viewer awareness of NBC's new fall shows, the series premiere of "Rider" (7.4 million viewers and a 2.5 rating/7 share in preliminary adults 18-49) opened in third place in the 8 p.m. hour — slightly less than "Deal or No Deal" in the slot last year and half the rating the "Rider" movie pulled down in February.

"Rider" faced the debut of CBS' new comedy hour, featuring "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (6.5 million, 2.1/6) transplanted from Monday night and the series debut of the Jay Mohr starrer "Gary Unmarried" (6.8 million, 2.4/7). The comedies underperformed "Kid Nation" in the slot from last year, with "Christine" earning 34% less than when it snuggled in the Monday block.

NBC and CBS faced heavy competition in the hour from ABC, which came in second place for the night and won at 8 p.m. by stretching its "Dancing With the Stars" (15.9 million, 3.6/10) legs to Wednesday this week.

President Bush's brief live address at 9 p.m. EDT pushed back the rest of the night's major broadcast network programming, but the speech didn't stop CBS from having a terrific rest of the night.

The season premiere of "Criminal Minds" (17 million, 4.7/12) was the highest-rated show of the night, followed by "CSI: NY" (14.6 million, 4.0/11) winning the 10 p.m. hour. "Minds" was up an impressive 34% compared with last year, and "CSI" climbed 8%.

CBS has now demonstrated gains on the first three nights of premiere week despite a relatively modest performance from its new shows. With the network not facing "Dancing" next week at 8 p.m., CBS expects its comedies to improve and help the network dominate the night.

"We're extremely happy with the way our returning series have performed so far," CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl said. "We're up on the first three nights, bucking the conventional wisdom that audiences might not come back as strong. Continued strength with these shows establishes a great environment for audiences to find our new series."

Other results: Fox aired "Bones" (9.7 million, 3.1/9), followed by its comedy block of " 'Til Death" (4.6 million, 1.4/4) and "Do Not Disturb" (3.5 million, 1.3/3), with the comedies dropping slightly again.

NBC aired "America's Got Talent" (10.3 million, 2.7/7) followed by the Season 2 premiere of NBC's "Lipstick Jungle" (6.3 million, 2.4/6), which was in third at 10 p.m., down 14% from last year, bested by "CSI" and the final hour of the ABC special "David Blaine: Dive of Death" (7.1 million, 2.6/7, and, nope, he didn't die). The CW aired an on-par "America's Next Top Model" (4.1 million, 2.1/6). (partialdiff)