The broadcast networks officially kicked off the fall television season, and although NBC, ABC and CBS can all find something to crow about, there won't be a lot of smiles at Fox.
While all eyes were focused on the new shows launching, including CBS' remake of "Hawaii Five-0" and NBC's big-budget drama "The Event," it was ABC's old reliable "Dancing With the Stars" — which this season has contestants ranging from "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson and ex- NFL great Kurt Warner to "Jersey Shore" sensation Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino — that dominated the night. ABC averaged 17.7 million viewers, to claim first place, and it also was on top in the 18-49 demographic that advertisers covet, followed by CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW.
Overall, about 47.4 million people tuned in to watch the premieres of five television shows and new episodes of nine other series, according to Nielsen. That's a drop of about 5 million viewers or almost 10% from the first official night of last year's television season.
But the decrease in viewers can pretty much be squarely put on Fox, which saw its medical drama "House" return to relatively flat numbers compared with last season in the 8 p.m. hour and "Lone Star," the network's critically praised drama about a Texas con man, flame out at 9 p.m. About 10.5 million people watched Monday night's "House," and then more than 50% of them bailed out on "Lone Star," which averaged about 4 million viewers. Last year, a two-hour episode of "House" averaged over 17 million viewers.
Fox knew it would have a hard sell with "Lone Star," and it was facing off against particularly tough competition from CBS — which had the season premiere of its hit comedy "Two and a Half Men" followed by "Mike & Molly," a new romantic comedy — and NBC, which was launching the heavily hyped "The Event."
CBS' big event for Monday night was its new take on "Hawaii Five-0." The show, which replaced " CSI Miami" in the 10 p.m. slot, averaged 13.8 million viewers, making it the most-watched new show for the night. The performance was only 3% off from what David Caruso and his gang did last year in their season premiere. "Mike & Molly" also got off to a decent start, with 12.3 million viewers. Although that was a drop of 15% from its lead-in of "Two and a Half Men," it was only 5% off from what "The Big Bang Theory" averaged in its season premiere in the same 9:30 p.m. slot a year ago. This season, CBS has moved "The Big Bang Theory" to Thursday night.
NBC, which is trying to recover from last year's disaster of a television season, can take encouragement from the performance of "The Event." The serialized thriller stars Jason Ritter and Blair Underwood and is NBC's big bet for the fall. It averaged 11.2 million viewers, which is not a spectacular number given the show's cost but is much better than what the network did last year in the same time period. More important, the audience for "The Event" grew in the second half-hour, which is a good sign.
Another factor in Monday night's numbers was the strong performance of ESPN's "Monday Night Football," which lured 15.1 million viewers who watched the New Orleans Saints nip the San Francisco 49ers in the closing seconds.
HBO, which on Sunday night premiered its expensive new series "Boardwalk Empire," about Atlantic City corruption in the age of Prohibition, said it was renewing the show for a second season. The premiere averaged 4.8 million viewers in the Sunday 9 p.m. hour. It was HBO's best series premiere since "Deadwood," which had the benefit of a "Sopranos" lead-in when it made its debut in 2004.