MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Just because Sunday Night Football is over doesn't mean the night's prime time isn't about gamesmanship. It's just a different version, as witnessed by the winners of each hour last night that were either playing head games (ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers & Sisters"), reality TV games (CBS's "Amazing Race") or journalistic cat-and-mouse games ("60 Minutes").
But it was the reality game show that didn't win its time slot that was the bigger story of the night, as "Celebrity Apprentice" -- which is running concurrently with host Donald Trump's endgames with several of his troubled, if not bankrupt, business ventures -- lost 21% of its season-premiere audience from last week, falling to a 3.1/8 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic.
That was about 25% less over the two hours than "Desperate Housewives" (4.6/11) and "Brothers & Sisters" (3.5/9), which along with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (2.9/8) and "America's Funniest Home Videos" (2.0/6) helped ABC win with an overall 3.3/9. But the night wasn't all good for ABC. Despite the win, "Extreme Makeover" and "Desperate" declined 19% from its original-episode season average, while "Videos" was down 13%. "Brothers & Sisters," however, held its average. (All ratings based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings; final live-plus-same-day data will be released Tuesday.)
CBS was second with a 2.6/7, as 7 p.m. winner "60 Minutes" (2.2/7, down 27%) and 8 p.m. winner "Amazing Race" (3.0/8, a 7% increase) led into "Cold Case" (3.0/7, up 11%) and "The Unit" (2.3/6, down 8%).
NBC, despite the Donald's decline, was able to eke out a third-place 2.4/7 over Fox's fourth-place 2.3/6. But overall both networks declined, as both competed for the same young adult males (many of whom were probably involved in a different kind of game on an Xbox or Wii). NBC repurposed old "Saturday Night Live" skits with "Just Game Show Parodies" (1.3/4) at 7 p.m., which beat game show "Hole in the Wall" (1.2/4) on Fox. The next hour Fox beat the Peacock, as "The Simpsons" (2.8/8, off 26%) and "King of the Hill" (2.4/6, down 23%) topped "Just Commercials" (2.1/6), "SNL's" spoof commercial compilation.
Fox had its highest ratings at 9 p.m., with "Family Guy" (3.7/9), but it tumbled too, off 16%. The decline was less -- 10% -- for lead-out "American Dad," but so, too, was the rating: 2.7/6.
Regardless of which games are being played, the CW is used to being last against Sunday's tough competition. But last night it came close to solitaire, as "Jericho" and theatrical "Easy Money" delivered only a 0.2/1.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Monday: Sure, the writers strike is long over, but scripted series are still struggling, especially against reality TV. So how about a scripted series -- about a writer? ABC gives it a shot tonight at 10 p.m. with the series premiere of "Castle," about a mystery-writer-turned-detective.
Tuesday: PBS's "Independent Lens" doesn't sound as sexy as "Castle," but the mystery it explores -- North Korea kidnapping Japanese citizens -- might be even more compelling.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Good sampling for "Castle" out of the season premiere of "Dancing With the Stars."
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.