TV Ratings: CBS Dramas Bite Reality Back

Rash Report: Strong Starts for 'NCIS,' 'NCIS: Los Angeles' and 'The Good Wife'

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- Attention, Writers Guild! Don't put down your pens or close up your computers yet. It seems the reports of the death of the scripted series, in the words of Mark Twain -- who knew a bit about writing -- are greatly exaggerated.

'The Good Wife'
'The Good Wife' Credit: CBS
At least it was Tuesday night, as three CBS dramas -- "NCIS," "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Good Wife" -- easily beat unscripted series on rival networks to give CBS its strongest start with overall viewers since 1993 and the best beginning with the ad-centric adults 18-49 since 2004, according to the network.

Concurrently, the genre with the most currency in recent seasons, reality TV, saw viewing declines, either from last fall's or last week's season premieres.

"NCIS" had its biggest audience ever and the 4.8/14 rating and share in the demo was a third higher than last fall's first episode. That's a remarkable ratings achievement for any show, let alone one entering its seventh season. "NCIS: Los Angeles" (4.4/11) picked up the story -- and the viewers -- from its spinoff episode last spring, and in the process sprung past last fall's big timeslot hit, "The Mentalist," by 26%. Then the critically acclaimed "The Good Wife" had a great beginning, as its 3.1/8 was 11% higher than the show it replaced, "Without a Trace." Overall CBS finished first with a 4.1/11.

Meanwhile, two-hour reality shows on ABC ("Dancing with the Stars") and NBC ("The Biggest Loser") declined demographically, either from last week, last night or last season, while Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" couldn't heat up beyond its summer ratings average.

"Stars" (3.5/9) fell 15% from Monday's first dance and 26% from its first Tuesday telecast last fall. "The Biggest Loser" (3.1/8) lost 18% from last Tuesday's season premiere.

"Hell's Kitchen" (3.2/9 and 3.5/9 for two episodes) put Fox second overall with a 3.3/9.

Of course, CBS wasn't the only network to have scripted series. ABC premiered "The Forgotten," which, compared to CBS's big night, may itself not be remembered for long, especially as it was a distant second-place in the timeslot with a 2.6/7. But that number was up 18% from last fall's timeslot show, "Eli Stone." Yet tripping the light fantastic and the dark drama of "the forgotten" are particularly incompatible, as evidenced by the 26% drop from its lead-in, which spells trouble for the new show.

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

Some unscripted fare fared relatively well -- that is, compared to Monday night, when NBC's "Jay Leno Show" hit a series low. It slightly rebounded on Tuesday, up 39% to a 2.5/7. But that's still down more than half from its prime-time premiere last week. Overall, NBC finished fourth with a 2.9/8.

As for the CW, at least it's providing jobs for Writers Guild members. But it's evidently also going to be turning to its union brothers -- or in this case, sister -- at the Screen Actors Guild, as Heather Locklear will soon be reunited with the show that made her a TV star, "Melrose Place." It needs her. After lead-in "90210" (1.0/3) fell 17% from last week's rating, "Melrose Place" (.8/2 was) tumbled 20% en route to being the lowest-rated show on network TV.

Wednesday: ABC launches its revamped Wednesday night lineup (well at least part of it, as "Hank" and the "Middle" will have to wait a week). In an unusual move, the network screened the full pilot of "Modern Family" and it was worth it, as the bittersweet tale of the ever-developing definition of family is one of the year's best new shows. Lead-out "Cougartown," conversely, was less inspiring, especially as the comedy stretches credulity, such as Courtney Cox's character's insecurity with her looks or security with her real-estate job in the Florida foreclosure epicenter. At 10 p.m. "Eastwick" also seems to get it wrong, including this year's theme: It's vampires, not witches!
Thursday: Whether "Flash Forward" becomes ABC's next "Lost" remains to be seen, but the ambitious storytelling is a good first step in trying to create the network's next great drama.

The gender split between those watching the witches on "Eastwick" and "Leno," as Jay's guests are sports announcers Al Michaels and Bob Costas, as well as actor Vince Vaughn, the kind of guy who probably watches the games Michaels and Costas call.

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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

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