CBS, NBC Neck and Neck in Premiere Week

With CBS making progress among younger viewers, the network is neck and neck with perennial ratings leader NBC after the first week of the TV season, setting up a dogfight for ratings suprem acy this fall.

Through the first four days of the official start of the season, CBS is ahead in households and total viewers, while NBC holds the lead in the 18-49 viewer demo. CBS is up 26 percent in the 18-49 demo over the same period last season, and NBC is down 4 percent.

CBS is averaging 17.1 million view ers compared with NBC’s 16 million.

Two of CBS’ new 10 p.m. dramas, CSI: Miami and Without a Trace, had strong performances, while key returning NBC programs showed viewer slippage.

“Perception is hard to overcome,” said Steve Sternberg, senior vp of audience analysis for Magna Global USA., “but CBS is starting to do it. It has a growing number of strong 18-49 shows and can be an effective vehicle at reaching that younger audience.”

While Sternberg be lieves CBS could win the season in households and viewers, “it will still be very hard for CBS to catch NBC in 18-49.”

The premiere of CSI: Miami was up 115 percent in households over Family Law, which aired in the same 10 p.m. Monday slot last season. Without a Trace scored a household rating 35 percent higher than The Agency, which aired in the 10 p.m. Thursday slot last year.

Conversely, NBC’s premiere epi sode of Monday night drama Crossing Jordan was down 38 percent in households and 29 percent in 18-49 viewers. The West Wing premiere was down 26 percent in households and 33 percent in 18-49 from last season’s premiere. Even ER was down in households, by 7 percent, and in 18-49 by 9 percent.

ABC continues to struggle, but buy ers ap pear willing to be patient. “ABC programming execs have conceded that it might take another year beyond this … to turn things around,” said John Rash, Campbell-Mithun chief broadcast negotiator.