Gary Susman
September 30, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Who won the first weekly ratings battle of the new TV season? Depends on who you ask. Though final Nielsen numbers won’t be released until late on Tuesday, the three major networks that premiered new shows last week were all claiming victory. CBS claimed the most viewers overall, while NBC claimed the best numbers among the 18-49 age group advertisers pay premiums for. ABC, however may have the most telling numbers; it’s the only network whose ratings are up from this time last year, while the others were flat or even below last year’s levels.

CBS is claiming the most-watched new show to date, pulling in 18.4 million viewers for last week’s debut of the Charlie Sheen sitcom ”Two and a Half Men.” It’s also boasting of airing the four most popular new dramas, ”Cold Case,” ”Joan of Arcadia,” ”Navy NCIS,” and ”The Handler.” NBC’s supposedly younger and hipper new shows didn’t do as well among viewers overall — particularly the racy, ”Friends”-like sitcom ”Coupling” and Alicia Silverstone’s ”Miss Match” — but NBC is still claiming demographic supremacy. NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker told the Associated Press he was especially pleased that ”The West Wing” drew more viewers to last week’s season premiere than to any episode last season. (Take that, Aaron Sorkin.)

According to early Nielsen estimates, ABC’s ratings are up 8 percent over the same week a year ago, while the other networks are down as much as 18 percent from last year. Kelly Ripa’s new sitcom ”Hope & Faith” looked like a hit, and ”8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” scored with the first of the three new episodes John Ritter filmed before his death.

For Fox, baseball playoffs mean the new season won’t get underway until November, but Fox is already making some lineup changes. This summer’s hit ”The O.C.” will move from Thursdays to Wednesdays, and ”The Bernie Mac Show” will move to Sundays after ”The Simpsons.” (In ”O.C.”’s Thursday slot will go second airings of new soap ”Skin.”) ”Bernie Mac” takes the place of Cheech Marin’s new comedy, ”The Ortegas,” meaning that show won’t premiere until midseason, if at all.

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