Jennifer Armstrong
October 06, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Murderers don’t stand a chance against the ever-vigilant CSIers. But pretty surgeons? That’s another story. With Grey’s Anatomy airing opposite CSI, TV’s No. 1 drama faces its most serious threat in five years. Grey’s won the initial round on Sept. 21 (25.4 million to 22.6 million) and CSI took home a slim victory the following week (by 291,000 viewers), but suddenly Thursday at nine is shaping up to be the highest-stakes seesaw battle since CBS moved Survivor against Friends in 2001. ”Thursday has been a destination night for a long, long time,” says ABC exec VP Jeff Bader, ”and to not be in that game has been hard.” Happily for Bader, when you factor in Ugly Betty‘s 8 p.m. debut (16.3 million viewers, within spitting distance of Survivor), his network finds itself in the Thursday game for the first time in over a quarter century.

Why is that a big deal? Well, advertisers spend big to catch viewers right before the weekend, so networks have a huge incentive to concentrate their hottest properties on that evening — a concept NBC took to new heights in the ’90s with its Must See TV lineup. (For its part, the Peacock’s My Name Is Earl and The Office struggled against Betty, while ER still dominates in young adults at 10 p.m.) So ABC has a real reason to celebrate. In the meantime, Bader jokes that ABC execs are a bit nostalgic for their last winning Thursday lineup: ”We’re having a screening of Mork & Mindy, What’s Happening!!, Barney Miller, and Soap.”

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