Each of the four biggest broadcast networks had some carefully nurtured initial successes. But NBC was alone in seeing more prime-time viewers than it had during the same week in 2012, and the increase was 19 per cent. Among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that many advertisers seek, NBC had the widest first-week margin of victory in 16 years, the Nielsen ratings company said.
"NBC is a much broader network than it has been for the better part of a decade, frankly," said NBC's head of alternative and late-night programming, Paul Telegdy.
The success of "The Voice," which fills two-hour chunks of NBC's schedule on Monday night and Tuesday night, is a major factor. Monday's show last week reached nearly 15 million viewers, with slightly fewer on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Simon Cowell's "The X-Factor" on Fox finished below 8 million viewers for both of its nights last week.
While "Dancing With the Stars" is still popular on ABC, the median age of people watching was 62, compared with a more vibrant and valuable 48 for "The Voice."
NBC's James Spader drama, "The Blacklist," started strong with 12.6 million viewers last week, Nielsen said.
NBC has its skeptics. Michael J. Fox's well-publicized new sitcom gave NBC a pulse on Thursday night, but it still ranked No. 43 among the week's shows. The network collapsed in mid-winter last season following a strong start when pro football ended and "The Voice" went on hiatus.
"Their season could turn out a lot like last season, but they're starting higher," said Bill Gorman, co-founder of the website TV By the Numbers.
One key difference for NBC is it will broadcast the Winter Olympics this year.
Despite NBC's gains, CBS maintained its status as the most-watched network overall. CBS succeeded in giving a strong start to "The Crazy Ones," Robin Williams' new sitcom, which finished among Nielsen's top 10 shows. Williams' show was helped by airing directly after "The Big Bang Theory," which opened its seventh season with the largest audience it has ever had.
One concern for CBS has to be its formerly dominant Monday night lineup. "2 Broke Girls" was given the evening's showcase time slot at 9 p.m., yet finished No. 34 among broadcast shows last week, Nielsen said.
ABC's adventure series "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." was the network's most-watched scripted show last week, its audience bigger than that for "Modern Family." The agents represented the second most-watched drama among viewers aged 18 to 49 on television last week, losing only to AMC's series finale of "Breaking Bad."
In terms of new shows, that was ABC's highlight. While ABC had fewer viewers last week than in the same week in 2012, it posted a slight increase among 18-to-49-year-old viewers, the statistic it watches most closely.
New ABC series "Lucky 7" and "Betrayal" have the look of shows that won't last long.
Fox had the steepest decline year-to-year, losing nearly 1 million viewers. Its lone bright spot is the dark new drama "Sleepy Hollow."
With the proliferation of networks and other entertainment choices, the broadcast networks have posted declines almost every year for the last three decades, Gorman said, and it doesn't look as though this year will be any different.
CBS averaged 10.4 million viewers in prime time for the week. NBC had 9.7 million, ABC had 8 million, Fox had 6 million, Univision had 3.3 million, Telemundo had 1.05 million, ION Television had 1.04 million and the CW had 780,000.
ESPN was the most-watched cable network last week, averaging 3.1 million viewers in prime time. TBS had 2.6 million, The Disney Channel had 2.2 million, AMC had 1.9 million and USA had 1.6 million.
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 8 million viewers. ABC's "World News" was second with 7.2 million, and the "CBS Evening News" had 6.1 million viewers.
For the week of Sept. 23-29, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFL Football: New England at Atlanta, NBC, 20.49 million; "The Big Bang Theory" (Thursday, 8:31 p.m.), CBS, 20.44 million; "NCIS," CBS, 20.02 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 18.99 million; "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS, 16.35 million; "The Crazy Ones," CBS, 15.52 million; "Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 15.26 million; "The Voice" (Monday), NBC, 14.98 million; "The Voice" (Tuesday), NBC, 14.35 million; NFL Football: Oakland at Denver, ESPN, 13.92 million.
ABC and ESPN are owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.