Sure, CBS won the Nielsen ratings week again, thanks in large measure to its all-CSI-all-the-time schedule. (The original CSI was the week’s most-watched show, with 28.4 million viewers, while CSI: Miami finished at No. 3 and CSI: NY at No. 8.) But the most popular new show of the season doesn’t feature any crime scene investigators, though maybe it could use some: it’s ABC’s Desperate Housewives. The soap about suburban supermoms hiding sordid secrets finished at No. 4 for the week with an audience of 20 million, nearly the same as last week’s debut. Between Desperate, fellow Sunday smash Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (No. 14 this week), new Wednesday hit Lost (No. 9), and perennial Monday Night Football (No. 11), ABC is the network with momentum, not to mention watercooler buzz.
To be sure, ABC has as many new flops – The Benefactor, Life as We Know It, Complete Savages – as it does hits. Even with its four top 20 shows, the network still finished third overall for the week, averaging an audience of 9.7 million. Still, that’s just a nose behind second-place NBC (9.9 million), with its strong but no longer invincible Thursday night schedule. (NBC’s only top 10 show was ER, finishing in seventh place with 17.1 million viewers.) CBS was still far and away the leader, with an average audience of 13.8 million. Fox, which seems to have little on its schedule these days other than baseball playoffs (its new season begins in earnest in November, after the World Series), finished fourth with a 7.8 million average audience. The WB drew 4 million, beating the 3.7 million finish for UPN.
By one measure, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was actually the third most-watched show of the week. With coverage pooled among several broadcast and cable networks, the most popular show of the week was Friday’s town hall-style debate between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, which drew 46.7 million viewers. Close on its heels was Tuesday’s vice presidential debate between current veep Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards, which drew 43.6 million viewers.