By James Hibberd
Updated January 06, 2012 at 10:39 PM EST

Jersey Shore‘s fifth season premiere once again impressed with big ratings, though the show’s audience declined from prior debuts for the first time.

A total of 7.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the gang return to Seaside, down 14 percent from the summer premiere where the cast went to Italy. The drop was telegraphed a bit when last season’s finale went down from the previous finale for the first time, signaling the show’s popularity might have peaked. Thursday’s debut slipping seems to confirm that trend, even though the performance is still massive. My take: It’s time to shake up the cast.