But the hit keeps taking hits, at least as far as audience erosion is concerned, as "Heroes" delivered a 4.0/8 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, which was down 20% from its premiere two weeks ago. This was just the latest example of many established shows struggling right alongside new entries, which is the transcendent trend of the new season.
NBC's well-reviewed "Chuck," for instance, also is struggling, as its 2.3/5 was down 15% from last week's first fall episode. And "Heroes" lead-out "Life" was lifeless, finishing third at 10 p.m. ET with a 2.2/5, which was 19% lower than last week.
For the night, NBC averaged a third-place finish with a 2.8/6, losing to CBS's 4.0/9 and ABC's second-place 3.6/9. Fox finished fourth with a 2.3/5, and the CW, which is already running repeats ("Gossip Girl," 0.8/2 and "Privileged," 0.7/2) in week two of the official new season, was fifth with a 0.8/2.
CBS benefited from anti-hero Horatio Caine (David Caruso) of "CSI Miami," which easily won at 10 p.m. with a 4.0/10, beating "Boston Legal" (2.2/6) on ABC as well as NBC's "Life." But "Miami" cooled, too, declining 17% from its season's average.
CBS's highest-rated program -- and the whole CBS sitcom lineup, for that matter -- featured guys who could hardly be called heroes themselves, as "Two and a Half Men" (5.1/11) joined other male misfits in "The Big Bang Theory" (3.7/9), "How I Met Your Mother" (4.0/9) and "Worst Week" (3.0/7). In general, it was a good night for the comedies (and who doesn't need a laugh right now?) as all were up from last week.
Fox mixed heroes and anti-heroes, as "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (2.3/6) led into "Prison Break" (2.2/5).
Of course, audiences actually haven't rejected heroics, but at least last night they turned to an old-fashioned version -- sports heroes. Injured gold medalist (and NBC hero) Misty May Treanor had her last dance on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," which held right about even with last week at a 4.3/10. And ESPN (along with the Minnesota Vikings on a last-second kick) once again scored with "Monday Night Football," which posted a 4.6/13, beating TBS's baseball playoff coverage, which notched a 1.9/5. And the WWE (which at least according to Nielsen is a sport) was right behind the nation's pastime with a 1.8/4.
Tuesday night it's back to the other, more recent national pastime -- politics -- as Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain debate. If either one actually presents a plan to solve the financial crisis, now that would be heroic.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: The second debate between Sens. Obama and McCain. If the focus is on '60s bomber Bill Ayers and '80s banker Charles Keating, the country may be in even more trouble than it seems.
Wednesday: There's still time to check out this year's new models! "Knight Rider" runs at 8 p.m. on NBC and "Gary Unmarried" runs at 8:30 on CBS.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Since the first presidential debate was on a Friday, it's understandable that the vice presidential debate, which took place last Thursday, was higher-rated. But if round two still doesn't top the veep wannabees, much will be attributed to the public's fascination with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.