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TV Winners and Losers

We look at what worked and what didn’t on the five major networks

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After a blockbuster fall (in which viewership rose 4 percent), many prime-time series took a dive that can’t be blamed solely on the power of Fox’s American Idol. Still, some networks fared better than others. Here, who scored despite the dip — and who buckled under the pressure.

Season average: 12.5 million weekly viewers

Crime procedurals still pay: Criminal Minds (14.2 million viewers, up 1.6 million) stared down even Idol. And the Eye gained 30 percent on Sunday with the bold pairing of Cold Case (14.4 million) and Without a Trace (14.7 million). ”It’s good flow,” says scheduling chief Kelly Kahl. Though not good enough to keep: Trace returns to Thursdays next fall.

ABC’s Thursday lineup hampered CBS standbys Survivor (15.3 million) and CSI (20.5 million), causing a 19 percent decline (though CBS still won in total viewers). And CBS’ attempts at getting younger (The Class, 8.4 million) and buzzier (Jericho, 9.5 million) failed. The latter, Kahl says, simply ”never built momentum.”

Season average: 10.3 million weekly viewers

Well, there’s this American Idol show (30.4 million), which also happened to help launch the breakout game show of the season, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (12.7 million), finally giving Fox a fighting chance on Thursdays. Says programming VP Preston Beckman, ”That’s the big shocker for us.”

Fox’s fall curse continues: RIP Happy Hour (3.9 million), Standoff (6.1 million), Vanished (5.5. million), Justice (5.6 million)…So what’s the plan to save this September? More reality, and fewer baseball pre-emptions (14, down from 26)! ”We’re much cleaner,” Beckman says, ”and that’s going to help us strategize differently.”

Season average: 9.9 million weekly viewers

Dancing With the Stars (19.2 million) waltzed to the top, bested only by Idol and CSI. The net scored with estro-friendly pairings like Grey’s Anatomy (19.5 million) and Ugly Betty (11.3 million) on Thursdays and Desperate Housewives (17.5 million) and Brothers & Sisters (11 million) on Sundays — a strategy echoed in fall’s girly-drama-heavy lineup.

WHAT DIDN’T Old-guard comedies like According to Jim (6.3 million) faltered, while new ones like The Knights of Prosperity (5 million) fared even worse. And the later hours were not kind to complicated new dramas The Nine (8.1 million) and Six Degrees (8.3 million). ”We just weren’t as strong at 10 p.m.,” says ABC chief of research Larry Hyams.

Season average: 8.9 million weekly viewers

In one all-too-appropriate word, Heroes (14.4 million). The show’s superpowers included materializing viewers from thin air (NBC’s down 9 percent overall but up on Mondays) and luring evasive young male viewers. The only other uptick came courtesy of another group of power players: Sunday Night Football(16.5 million).

NBC’s fictionalized football didn’t do as well, but, thankfully, Friday Night Lights (6.1 million) will live to play again next season. Alas, Studio 60 (8.5 million) and Kidnapped (5.6 million) joined the serialized scrap heap. ”Once you don’t get viewers for those shows,” laments NBC scheduling president Vince Manze, ”they’re never coming.”

Season average: 3.2 million weekly viewers

Network suits were psyched just to get the WB-UPN mash-up off the ground. ”It’s more difficult than people think,” says Kahl, who also oversees The CW’s schedule. But the network change didn’t faze crown jewels America’s Next Top Model (5.4 million) or Beauty and the Geek (4 million). Both shows will be key anchors next season.

Several previous ratings and critical darlings showed their age, from 7th Heaven (3.3 million) to Gilmore Girls (3.7 million) to the now-canceled Veronica Mars (2.5 million). ”Veronica and Gilmore were [supposed to be] the emblematic pairing,” Kahl says. ”It was frustrating that we couldn’t make it into something bigger.”