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TV'S big premiere week

With ratings through the roof, a reenergized fall lineup is (mostly) off to an exciting start

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Broadcasters’ most crucial, nail-biting week of the year just wrapped, and the results are in. Several new shows drew large, healthy audiences, from Zooey Deschanel‘s Fox comedy New Girl (10.3 million viewers) to Emily VanCamp‘s ABC drama Revenge (10 million). The clearest early takeaway is that, contrary to popular opinion, broadcast TV is still kicking. ”The feeling was that broadcast is dead, nobody watches live TV anymore, blah blah blah,” says Fox scheduling head Preston Beckman. ”There’s a lot of gas in the tank for this business, and it was proven every day of the week.” Here are four more lessons from the first week of the season…

Comedy Is King

Everybody knew Two and a Half Men would draw a curious audience by killing off Charlie Sheen‘s character. But nobody expected a stunning 28.7 million people to show up and 19.4 million to stick around for CBS’ new sitcom 2 Broke Girls. In fact, the vital first four days of the season were all won by comedies, with New Girl leading Tuesday, ABC’s Modern Family returning with a fistful of Emmys and a series high on Wednesday (14.5 million), and CBS’ The Big Bang Theory topping Thursday with 14.9 million. ”It definitely does look like the comedy wave is upon us,” says ABC scheduling head Jeff Bader. The question is how many of these viewers will keep tuning in. For at least two of the sitcoms, the latest news is good: 2 Broke Girls and Two and a Half Men dropped in their second week to 11.6 million and 20 million respectively, but those numbers are still great — particularly for Men, which averaged 12.7 million viewers last season.

Reality Is Wearing Thin

While comedies soared, classic reality series dropped significantly from last fall: NBC’s unfortunately titled The Biggest Loser (down to 6.2 million from 7.2 million last season), CBS’ Survivor (down to 10.5 million from 12.3 million), and ABC’s Dancing With the Stars (down to 19 million from 21.3 million). That said, viewers sometimes flock to shiny new shows during premiere week, only to go back to old favorites later. ”These are resilient franchises that will bounce back in the coming weeks,” predicts NBC scheduling head Lisa Vebber.

Simon Cowell Has An Inflated Opinion of Himself

You knew that, but now there’s numerical proof. After Cowell suggested that his new singing contest The X Factor might outperform American Idol and said that scoring anything less than 20 million viewers would be a ”disappointment,” Fox had to go into overdrive defending the show’s 12.5 million viewers. That’s a good number for any new reality show, especially one facing heavy competition during the fall. ”We have to deal with unattainably high expectations for X Factor that were everywhere except inside the building,” Beckman says. (The jury’s still out on a second set of high expectations Fox may have on its hands: Its expensive sci-fi drama Terra Nova bowed to a passable 9 million.) Meanwhile, rivals are breathing a sigh of relief that The X Factor isn’t another ratings-zapping Fox ”Death Star” like Idol. ”It’s not a number that tends to affect CBS shows,” says CBS scheduling head Kelly Kahl.

The CW and NBC Still Need Game Changers

The CW, that female-targeted Land of Low Expectations, has been searching for a show that can take its performance to a higher level. The return of Sarah Michelle Gellar to broadcast TV drew plenty of buzz, but her new show, Ringer, and Kevin Williamson‘s Vampire Diaries companion The Secret Circle delivered all too familiar numbers (2.8 million and 3 million, respectively), especially after those dipped about 30 percent for their second episodes. ”While it’s nice to have breakouts, The CW needs solid pieces as well,” says Kahl. Over at frequent fourth-place network NBC, the Christina Applegate comedy Up All Night (10.9 million) got off the ground, but debuts for The Playboy Club (5 million), Prime Suspect (6.1 million), and Whitney (6.8 million) disappointed. Returning NBC comedies fared even worse, with Parks and Recreation and Community nabbing only 4.1 million and 4 million, respectively.