The 9pm battle on Thursday conjures up images of aging TV battleships lining up for combat. Most are past their prime and a bit rusty, but they're still among the strongest shows afloat for their networks.
The Line Up: CSI is 9 years old, but was #2 in the adults 18-49 demo for CBS last season, Grey's Anatomy (4.5 years old, #2 18-49 demo for ABC), The Office (4.5 years old, #1 non-sports 18-49 demo for NBC), Supernatural (4 years old, #2 scripted 18-49 demo for CW). Only sophomore Fringe is a youngster, but it was still Fox's #3 scripted show in the 18-49 demo last season.
The rest of the night is packed with top performers too. Survivor, 30 Rock, Bones, Private Practice and The Mentalist are all among the strongest shows for each of their networks.
Below are the hourly lineups, including each shows 18-49 demo rating average (which includes in-slot repeats) from the 2008-9 season as well as my guesses for the fall nightly overall results.
FlashForward (ABC), New
Survivor: Samoa (CBS), 4.2 18-49 demo rating for Gabon last fall
Vampire Diaries(CW), New
Bones (Fox), 2.9 demo rating (includes both Wed/Thurs airings last season)
SNL: Weekend Update (NBC), ? ; till Oct. 15 then Community
Parks & Recreation (NBC), 2.4 demo rating
Grey's Anatomy (ABC), 4.8 demo rating
CSI (CBS) 4.5 demo rating
Supernatural (CW) 1.2 demo rating
Fringe (Fox), 3.6 demo rating (Tuesday last season)
The Office (NBC), 4.0 demo rating
Community (NBC), New; till Oct. 15 then 30 Rock, 3.2 demo rating
Private Practice (ABC), 2.9 demo rating (includes both Wed/Thurs airings last season)
The Mentalist (CBS), 3.5 demo rating (Tuesday last season)
The Jay Leno Show (NBC), New, Fall 2009 Tonight Show averaged about a 1.4-1.5 demo rating
CBS will go from competitive to dominant on Thursday with the addition of The Mentalist to their line up. CSI has definitely seen better days, and the show finished last season on a slide, but that line up is not going to be beaten in the demo this fall. Thursday's either going to be ABC's strongest or second strongest night of the season, Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice should again do well together, and FlashForward has only Ugly Betty's timeslot track record to beat to possibly put ABC well up on the night vs. last season.
Fox is not going to contend for the nightly demo crown, but they'll do much better than last season's fall which featured Moment of Truth and Kitchen Nightmares. NBC is looking at a substantial ratings drop on the night vs. last season. Of course replacing ER with Leno is a ratings loser, but so probably is replacing My Name is Earl (which was above average for NBC) with SNL/Community and Parks and Recreation which was on a down slope as it finished the season, finishing well below it's 2.4 rating average. Thursday's are also the one night where the CW looks to do noticeably worse than last season. I don't care what the buzz over vampire shows is today, I can't see Vampire Diaries coming anywhere close to Smallville's numbers.
Note: I make all my guesses completely unburdened by having read any reviews of any of the new shows, having seen any of the pilots, or knowing any more than the most casual details of their subject matter. Does that make mine better or worse than the typical TV writer which focuses almost solely on those? Your mileage may vary.
Fox caveat: Regardless of their other shows, the outcome of the major league baseball playoffs can make or break Fox's fall averages. If they get long series with good matchups their overall season averages benefit tremendously. If they get short series with bad matchups, they'll suffer.