On Fox, medical malcontent Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), a gifted doctor but flawed human, again dominated in the demo dominating advertising spending, adults 18-49. It delivered a 5.3/13 rating and share and was the top-rated show of the night. "House" has created a home for the second-highest prime-time performer, "Fringe" (4.0/9), the zigzagging sci-fi series that has developed into the most dependable new program of the new season. Together, "House" and "Fringe" combined to give Fox first place with an overall 4.6/11.
For NBC, crime does pay
And the 10 p.m. hour was won by a show that often explores the uncertainty cops face when corralling criminals who know no moral code: "Law & Order: SVU," the veteran NBC drama that easily won its timeslot with a 3.7/10.
Conversely, programs with a more certain concept or construct didn't perform as well. At 8 p.m. two prime-time shows evoking daytime TV lost to "House." ABC's "Opportunity Knocks" fell to its lowest level yet, with only 1.3/4 answering. On NBC, a more personal game show, "The Biggest Loser," weighed in at a season-steady 3.1/8 with a two-hour installment. And the moral clarity of military justice on CBS's "NCIS" posted a 3.9/10, which was 8% above season levels.
CBS revisits this jurisprudence certitude at 10 p.m. with "Without a Trace," the forensics-focused show that delivered a 2.5/7, which was just below season levels. But in-between "NCIS" and "Trace," CBS has channeled the public vibe by grafting the certainty of crime fighting with the grifting of a fake TV psychic in "The Mentalist" (3.4/8). This along with "Fringe" has also debuted dependably as one of the few early season success stories. For the night, CBS tied NBC for second place with an overall 3.3/8.
Future unclear for 'Eli Stone'
That left ABC in fourth with a 2.3/6, as the formulaic certainty of "Dancing With the Stars" (3.3/8) lost 8% from last week and is down nearly 30% from its first Tuesday showing of the new season. Still, "Dancing" was 50% higher than the season premiere of "Eli Stone" (2.2/6), a show itself about states of uncertainty, with a title character who has visions following an aneurysm. But with "Eli Stone" 's season-premiere rating 45% lower than the series premiere last January, maybe it's the viewers who aren't certain, as it's hard to regenerate interest in a freshman serialized drama after a season interrupted by a strike.
As for the CW, it aired reruns. And one thing's for certain in these uncertain times: No one -- especially the network's desired demographic of media-savvy young viewers -- likes repeats. Accordingly, "90210" (.8/2) and "Privileged" (.6/1) were down 53% and 45%, respectively, from last week.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: Speaking of uncertainty, those still undecided (is that even possible given this endless campaign?) have one more shot to see Sens. Obama and McCain go head to head, as the last debate starts tonight at 9 p.m.
Thursday: Actually, there is the debate after the debate, as the candidates -- and no doubt the moderator -- are mocked on the Thursday spinoff of NBC's "Saturday Night Live," starting at 9:30 p.m.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Will election fatigue dampen debate delivery for the real thing on Wednesday or the fake one on Thursday?
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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.