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December 12, 2008

Strong ratings for Fishburne's 'CSI' debut

97523_d0131b Laurence Fishburne's debut on CBS' top-rated drama "CSI" boosted the show to its best numbers since its premiere this season.

Fishburne's first appearance as Raymond Langston spurred viewer interest in the network's Thursday night tentpole show and CBS won every hour of the night. Helping matters: Top competitor ABC aired repeats, including the debut of an encore "Private Practice" after "Grey's Anatomy" (more on that below).

"CSI" was seen by 20.6 million viewers and earned a 5.7 preliminary rating among adults 18-49. Lead-in "Survivor" (13.2 million, 4.1) was up slightly from last week. Moreover, 10 p.m.'s "Eleventh Hour" (13.4 million, 3.8) enjoyed its best performance ever -- and marked the first time the freshman series has won its hour.

Having enjoyed a solidly rated fall and touting several shows climbing in the Nielsens, CBS is almost in a position to coast on autopilot this season. For the network, the "CSI" cast change is like, as a certain actor once intoned, a splinter in their mind. The crime procedural is conceived as an ensemble drama, with a format bigger than any one character. But if there is a heart of the show, it's William Petersen. The industry considers his departure and replacement by an African American actor to be a dice roll. Last night (video clip below) was part one of a two-part episode, with Petersen exiting Jan. 15. Though last night's ratings are certainly encouraging, the big test will be in the weeks following Petersen's departure.

"Too soon to tell," wrote TV Squad of Fishburne's character on their episode recap. "He's onscreen for maybe a total of five minutes, but they're certainly rich with possibility," wrote another."It's difficult, though, to see how the stern, thoughtful Dr. Langston will fit in as a CSI-1," wrote Zap2It.

The lack of original ABC competition helped NBC comedies as well. "My Name Is Earl" (6.6 million, 2.7), "Kath & Kim" (5.3 million, 2.4), "The Office" (8.8 million, 4.8) and "30 Rock" (7.5 million, 3.8) all had their highest numbers in several weeks with the block scoring its best overall number since Oct. 30. "ER" (8.9 million, 3.4) was on par.

ABC placed third, with the repeat of "Practice" (4.5 million, 1.4) retaining 67% of its repeat "Grey's" lead in. Commenting on how "Practice" is performing after "Grey's" when both shows are in December repeats is like a pitcher hurling a fast ball while the other player is still picking up their bat -- it's too early to count. But for whatever it's worth, "Practice" retained better last night than "Life on Mars" (46%) has averaged in the time period.

On Fox, a special episode of "Secret Millionaire" (5.4 million, 2.0) dropped to a new low. A strong number here, up against "Survivor," would have likely resulted in Fox renewing the show given the performance of the first few "Millionaire" episodes. As is, the verdict is unclear -- did the show drop merely because of the tough time period, or is the concept's novelty wearing off? "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader" followed (4.6 million, 1.2). The CW aired repeats.

THURSDAY, Nov. 4, 2008

Rate/share

8-8:30

8:30-9

9-9:30

9:30-10

10-10:30

10:30-11
5.4 million / 1.7 Ugly Betty (R) Grey's Anatomy (R) Private Practice (R)
15.8 million / 4.5 Survivor: Gabon
13.2 million / 4.1
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
20.6 million / 5.7
Eleventh Hour
13.4 million / 3.8
7.7 million / 3.4 My Name Is Earl
6.6 million / 2.7
Kath & Kim
5.3 million / 2.4
The Office
8.8 million / 4.8
30 Rock
7.5 million / 3.8
ER
8.9 million / 3.4
5.4 million / 1.6 Secret Millionaire
5.4 million / 2.0
Are You Smarter
4.6 million / 1.2
No programming
2.1 million / 0.8 Smallville (R) Supernatural (R) No programming

VIDEO CLIP:

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