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'Thursday Night Football' debuts big: Will fall rivals get sacked?

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Football

Thursday night is probably going to be pretty brutal this fall—if you’re not CBS. The network kicked off its new Thursday Night Football franchise last night to some very strong numbers, suggesting the next several weeks could get ugly as rivals try to launch their fall shows (which is, of course, part of the point).

The Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore game had an overnight household rating of 13.7, about double what last year’s comparable game received on the NFL Network and only down about 9 percent from NBC’s Sunday Night Football behemoth.. In the regular numbers, the game delivered more than 15.9 million viewers and a 5.5 rating among adults 18-49. (These are early live figures that will be adjusted higher as Nielsen’s West Coast tally is finalized.) The media coverage of the Ray Rice controversy might have boosted casual fan awareness of the Ravens game as well, though the running back is suspended and didn’t play.

While CBS’ Thursday game ratings won’t match the Sunday Night Football kingpin (which delivered about 24 million viewers), CBS doesn’t need numbers anywhere close to tackle NBCFoxABCTheCW in the coming weeks. In addition to their returning shows, Fox is looking to launch mystery thriller Gracepoint and NBC has freshman comedies Bad Judge and A to Z coming Oct. 2. The only new show that’s probably insulated is the new Shonda Rhimes drama How to Get Away with Murder (Sept. 25), just as ABC’s female-skewing Sunday-night drama block has traditionally been able to withstand the pressure of Sunday Night Football.

After bombing the battlefield with Thursday Night Football for six weeks, CBS will switch to its regular entertainment programming on Oct. 30. Then rivals “only” have to contend with The Big Bang Theory—TV’s highest-rated comedy—and its lead-out minions. But will they have enough traction at that point to put up a fight?