My pre-season guess that the move of The Mentalist to Thursday night would give CBS the dominant position turned out to not be the case for two reasons (1) CSI faltered badly, and (2) The Mentalist failed to dominate 10pm. In fact for all its troubles this season, ABC's Thursday held up better than I guessed and moved ahead of CBS in the season average ratings on the night.
In 2008-9 ABC's Most Current (unfortunately not comparable to the Live+SD averages below) adults 18-49 ratings average on Thursday night was a 3.7, and they have so far maintained that average for 2009-10. CBS' Thursday ratings average last season was a 3.9, and this season it fell to a 3.6, as ABC passed them by.
Among the devastation that was the rest of the NBC schedule, The Office held up very well, but compared to My Name is Earl (which averaged a 2.4 rating) the combo of Community and Parks & Recreation did less well.
While the CW can point to The Vampire Diaries as its bright spot for the 2009-10 season, the other half of their Thursday lineup, Supernatural, faded badly. For Fox, Bones was very steady this season vs. last, but Fringe was battered badly in the ratings after moving to 9pm. Apparently, not too battered, as Fox has already renewed the show.
The content of my original post from 9/9/09 is below with new additions in red:
NOTE: The season-to-date averages below are only through March 21.
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.
8:00 (Flash Forward starts well, but dwindles rapidly. Survivor and Bones hold up fairly well. Vampire Diaries is the CW's bright spot for the year)
FlashForward (ABC), New (2.6 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Survivor: Samoa (CBS), 4.2 18-49 demo rating for Gabon last fall (Samoa 3.8 adults 18-49 average in the fall, Heroes v. Villains 4.0 average through 3/21 in the spring)
Vampire Diaries(CW), New (1.2 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Bones (Fox), 2.9 demo rating (includes both Wed/Thurs airings last season) (2.7 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
SNL: Weekend Update (NBC), ? ; till Oct. 15 then Community (2.2 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
8:30 (Parks & Rec slides more than typical, but still gets renewed)
Parks & Recreation (NBC), 2.4 demo rating (2.0 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
9:00 (Grey's drifts down. CSI and Supernatural plummet. Fringe is battered at 9pm. The Office holds up very well)
Grey's Anatomy (ABC), 4.8 demo rating (4.4 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
CSI (CBS) 4.5 demo rating (3.3 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Supernatural (CW) 1.2 demo rating (0.9 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
Fringe (Fox), 3.6 demo rating (Tuesday last season) (2.1 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
The Office (NBC), 4.0 demo rating (3.9 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
9:30 (30 Rock slides more than average)
Community (NBC), New; till Oct. 15 then 30 Rock, 3.2 demo rating (2.8 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
10:00 (Private Practice holds up well. Mentalist takes a small haircut on the Thursday move. An average night for Leno)
Private Practice (ABC), 2.9 demo rating (includes both Wed/Thurs airings last season) (2.9 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
The Mentalist (CBS), 3.5 demo rating (Tuesday last season) (3.3 adults 18-49 season to date rating)
The Jay Leno Show (NBC), New, Fall 2009 Tonight Show averaged about a 1.4-1.5 demo rating (1.5 adults 18-49 season to date rating on Thursdays)
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.