By James Hibberd
Updated November 29, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
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ABC’s country-music drama Nashville was supposed to be the giant new hit. Mindy Kaling’s Fox comedy The Mindy Project was expected to make a perfect successful companion for New Girl. And didn’t we all think NBC’s Chicago Fire would be extinguished by now?

Man makes plans; fall laughs.

Here’s seven hits and misses from the start of the 2012-13 season:

WINNER: NBC

Who would have guessed the magic formula for rescuing NBC was “karaoke + apocalypse”? Thanks to The Voice and Revolution, along with trusty mainstay Sunday Night Football, NBC shot to first place this fall in the adults 18-49 demographic this fall and is the only broadcaster to post year-over-year ratings gains (up 23 percent). Can NBC’s sunny fortunes last? Unlikely! But it’s great to see the Peacock back in the fight.

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LOSER: Fox

Did Fox get sucked into Fringe’s parallel universe and trade places with NBC? The network is down 29 percent in the demo this fall, more than any other major broadcaster. Blame a softer World Series and shows like The Mob Doctor (not to mention the departure of House). Also not helping: The X Factor ratings have slipped to 10.3 million for Wednesday performance shows despite a season 2 overhaul with new judges (Britney Spears and Demi Lovato) and format tweaks. Throwing in red-carpet refugees Khloé Kardashian and Mario Lopez as co-hosts for the live episodes didn’t improve things either. Fox typically comes from behind to win the TV season, starting in January (when American Idol returns), and it has Kevin Williamson’s promising thriller, The Following, in the wings. But this year the network will have a steeper hill to climb.

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Gene Page/AMC

WINNER: Cable Underdogs

They’re a shady gang. Dark and profane and killing off characters left and right. Yet ethically murky antihero cable dramas like Showtime’s Dexter and Homeland, FX’s Sons of Anarchy, and AMC’s The Walking Dead all posted record ratings this fall. In fact, ultra-gory, rule-shattering Walking Dead’s third season is averaging 13.5 million viewers and, more impressively, a 7.2 demo rating— that’s big enough to give the broadcast networks an existential crisis, delivering more adults 18–49 than any entertainment series on TV.

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LOSER: Sitcoms

The success of Modern Family and New Girl inspired networks to develop a ton of comedies this year. But there’s nothing funny about the middling ratings for NBC’s Guys With Kids and The New Normal, Fox’s Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project. (All have received orders for more episodes, so clearly the networks still hope they’ll find an audience.) And remember NBC’s Animal Practice? Somewhere there’s a monkey collecting unemployment and it’s your fault, America. The only freshman-comedy star not sweating the Nielsens is Matthew Perry, whose Go On is clocking 9 million viewers thanks to a big Voice lead-in. Maybe the other shows can drop by for group therapy?

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WINNER: Men

Post-Bridesmaids, female-driven comedies like 2 Broke Girls, New Girl, Whitney, and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 were last season’s biggest trend. Now the boys are back in town, with several new shows with male stars earning full-season pickups. In addition to Go On, there’s Stephen Amell on Arrow giving The CW its biggest hit since The Vampire Diaries, Michael Chiklis and Dennis Quaid battling over Vegas on CBS along with Jonny Lee Miller solving crimes on Elementary, and those hunky firefighters (led by Taylor Kinney) lighting up NBC’s Chicago Fire. (Oh, if only ABC’s Last Resort scored a full season too, this entry would be bullet proof).

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LOSER: Ratings

Pop quiz: How many people watched the fourth-season premiere of ABC’s Modern Family: 10.7 million viewers, 14.4 million, or 18.8 million? Answer: All of the above. With DVRs in 46 percent of U.S. homes, Nielsen is struggling to keep pace with changing viewer habits by releasing progressively higher sets of numbers for each show as time passes and more fans catch up. (And no, the numbers still don’t include online, on demand, and streaming.) So despite Americans using high-tech innovations to watch record amounts of TV, simply counting viewers is more difficult than ever. Forget Hulu and TiVo, what we really need is somebody with a pocket calculator.

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WINNER: Red States

They lost the presidency, but they’re winning the cable race. The swampy Christian values of A&E’s Louisiana-based Duck Dynasty recently thumped FX’s media-elite favorite American Horror Story: Asylum on Wednesdays, while TLC’s Georgia-based child-obesity cautionary tale Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is set to roll out holiday specials, and Discovery’s Alaska-set Gold Rush is striking it rich on Friday nights. So which network is ready to hear our working-at-Walmart reality-series pitch? … C’mon, nobody wants to buy Off the Wal?

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