ABC got a much-needed shot in the arm last night as the premiere of its highly touted drama series Nashville delivered solid ratings.
Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the country music-inflected soap served up 8.93 million total viewers and a 2.8 in the 18-49 demo, winning the 10 p.m. time slot and blowing out the premiere of NBC’s Chicago Fire. The Dick Wolf firehouse drama averaged a disappointing 6.61 million viewers and a 1.9 in the demo, down 21 percent from the 2.4 rating notched a year ago by the previous time slot occupant, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
With 18 of the 21 new series launched, Nashville  now stands as the No. 3 drama of 2012-13, trailing the premieres of NBC’s Revolution (4.1) and CBS’ Elementary (3.1).
Nashville was particularly well set up by a special Modern Family twin bill. The 9 p.m. installment drew 12.1 million viewers and a 4.8 in the demo, while the immediate lead-in to Nashville averaged 12.3 million viewers and a 4.9.
All told, Nashville retained 59 percent of its comic lead-in. The pilot did see a fair amount of churn as the night progressed, losing 1.16 million viewers in the second half hour and dropping one-half of a ratings point (to 2.5 from a 3.0).
Though not nearly as splashy as Nashville, Chicago Fire ’s retention was nearly flawless, as the demo remained at the same level throughout the broadcast and total deliveries dipped by just 218,000.
Sandwiched between the two series premieres, CBS’ CSI won the race for total viewers with 10.7 million while trailing Nashville by just two-tenths of a ratings point (2.6).
Nashville is the priciest new marketing environment on the broadcast TV schedule, fetching $155,000 per 30-second spot, according to SQAD NetCosts estimates. It’s also the show that critics seem to enjoy the most, earning a score of 84  out of a possible 100 points on Metacritic.
Also premiering last night was The CW’s make-or-break action series Arrow. Designed to attract a broader cohort of viewers—the network’s traditional target audience is women 18-34—Arrow scared up a very strong 4.14 million viewers and a 1.3 among the 18-49 set. (The adults 18-34 rating was 1.1.)
Arrow boasts The CW’s biggest overall premiere delivery since The Vampire Diaries rolled out to 4.91 million viewers in 2009. In head-to-head competition, Arrow outlasted NBC’s sagging comedy Animal Practice in both total viewers (4.08 million vs. 3.8 million) and the 18-49 cohort (1.3 vs. 1.1) while holding its own against Guys With Kids at 8:30 p.m. (4.2 million vs. 4.19 million and 1.4 vs. 1.4).
Of the eight new comedies to bow this season, Animal Practice and Guys With Kids are now the two lowest rated. Now that CBS has pulled the plug on Made in Jersey , it appears inevitable that either Animal Practice or Fox’s The Mob Doctor will be the next new series to be put down.
Meanwhile, ABC’s new suburban ET comedy The Neighbors seems to have found its level, drawing 6.39 million viewers and a 2.0 in the demo, up a tick from Week 2. By this fall’s admittedly lowered standards, that’s not exactly a disastrous rating. Nor does it seem to be having much of a deleterious impact on ABC’s Modern Family franchise.
In the battle for the 8-10 p.m. slot, Fox’s The X Factor once again topped CBS’ Survivor in the demo (3.5 vs. 2.8). With a delivery of 9.82 million viewers, the older-skewing CBS series edged Factor by a margin of 260,000.
There are but three new fall series premieres remaining on the calendar. Tonight at 9 p.m., The CW takes the wraps off its reboot of Beauty and the Beast, while Tuesday, Oct. 16, will give rise to the debut of the network’s medical drama, Emily Owens, M.D. ABC will present the final launch of 2012 on Friday, Nov. 2, as Reba McEntire returns to the tube with the multicamera comedy Malibu County.