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Premiere Week Positive for Networks, But Don’t Call It a Comeback

One of the more memorable Monty Python bits is the “Bring out your dead!” segment from The Holy Grail. The poor subject of the joke pleading “I’m not dead yet!” is a fitting metaphor for the network TV world, which breathed a collective sigh of relief last week as new shows premiered with generally good numbers.

The concept of live network TV seems increasingly outdated as DVRs, iTunes and Hulu become more mainstream, allowing viewers to watch what they want, when they want. The industry itself even poked fun at its diminishing power during last week’s Emmy program.

But the networks got a bit of a reprieve as season premieres garnered respectable audiences. CBS (s CBS) was up 7 percent through the first four nights of the new season, with an average of 14.2 million viewers, writes The LA Times; and FOX (s NWSA) was up 35 percent to 9.4 million, thanks to a big bow for House.

The networks need that upward trend to continue after last year’s season, which, writes the Times, was the least-watched in the history of the five broadcast networks. Those low ratings hit the bottom line, too, as negotiations for the upfront ad buys slogged through the summer and prices were down 22 percent compared to last year.

But it’s not quite salad days for the networks just yet. Last week’s numbers weren’t great across the board. Freshman show Community lost 26 percent of its audience its second week, CSI was off by 44 percent year-over-year and Dancing with the Stars was down 25 percent from last fall and 33 percent from this past spring.

More important, however, is the fact that premiere week is a bit anomalous. Two-hour season openers jumble the true competitive landscape, and viewing historically tends to inflate 10 percent vs. the rest of the season.

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