ABC captured the night, thanks to "Monday Night Football," but it was also a very good night overall for both NBC and the WB, and at least half a good night for CBS. UPN's comedy lineup also exhibited growth, leaving Fox, with its "Who Wants to Be a Princess" special sputtering, on the outside looking in.
According to Nielsen nationals, NBC's "Crossing Jordan" averaged 15.74 million viewers and a 6.1 rating, 15 share in the coveted adults 18-49 demographic -- NBC's best Monday series premiere numbers in six and seven years, respectively.
This helped NBC post its best in-season Monday averages (13.5 million viewers, 5.5/13 in adults 18-49) since May 1999 and its best on the opening Monday of the season since 1997.
"Jordan," starring Jill Hennessy as a Boston medical examiner, easily topped CBS' competing drama in the 10 p.m. hour, "Family Law" (9.48 million, 3.6/9), and won its hour in key female demos. It placed second overall at 10 to ABC's "Monday Night Football."
There was some audience dropoff at 10:30 for "Jordan," though, but only future weeks will tell if that means viewers were less than thrilled with a show they clearly wanted to sample.
NBC posted gains vs. last year's opening night in all three hours, with solid performances as well from "Weakest Link" at 8 (11.91 million, 4.9/12 in adults 18-49) and "Dateline" at 9 (12.96 million, 5.4/12). In their first head-to-head battle, "Link" -- featuring a "Brady Bunch" reunion -- topped fellow quizzer "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" on ABC in all key demos.
"Millionaire" struggled (9.39 million, 2.6 rating in adults 18-49) but teamed with "Monday Night Football" (17.05 million, 7.1 in adults 18-49) to give ABC the night in viewers and adults 18-49, with the network showing year-to-year growth.
ABC won the night in adults 18-49 (6.0/14), topping CBS and NBC, which tied for second (5.5/13). In total viewers, ABC led (15.2 million), followed by CBS (14.4 million) and NBC (13.5 million).
NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker said he was cautiously optimistic about the network's Monday performance.
"It's the first night of a very long season, and there will be many highs and lows, but we're off to a great start," he said. "'Weakest Link's' performance at 8 was a huge victory, and 'Crossing Jordan's' performance exceeded our wildest expectations."
CBS was a strong No. 1 for the first half of the night, but fell on hard times with the 9:30 p.m. series premiere of "The Ellen Show" and the third-year premiere of "Family Law."
"Ellen," starring DeGeneres as a dot-com exec who returns to her hometown, retained just 61% of the audience from its strong "Everybody Loves Raymond" lead-in (13.84 million vs. 22.80 million) and 69% in adults 18-49 (5.8/13 vs. 8.4/19) -- lesser holds than every episode of "Becker" to air in the slot last season. The show now moves to its regular Friday-at-8 time slot.
While the numbers for "Ellen" weren't great, Kelly Kahl, executive VP of program planning and scheduling for CBS, said the preview achieved its goal.
"'Ellen' got some sampling, and that's all we were asking for before it goes to Fridays," he said.
CBS' other Monday comedies rolled, with "Raymond" -- the top show on any network for the night -- delivering its largest audience ever (22.8 million) and ranking as the most-watched CBS program since the finale of "Survivor: The Australian Outback" on May 3. "Raymond" also scored its best-ever rating among adults 18-34 (7.0), a 17% improvement over last season's premiere.
Leading into "Raymond" were the season premieres of "King of Queens," which posted its best numbers ever for an 8 p.m. episode (15.86 million, 6.2/17 in adults 18-49), and "Yes, Dear" (15.18 million, 6.2/15), which delivered its largest audience since January. Both "King" and "Dear," like "Raymond," ruled their time slots in all key categories.
"The entire comedy block was encouraging," CBS' Kahl added. "The returning shows were beyond our expectations in terms of viewers and demos."
Kahl said the strong ratings for CBS' returning laffers augur well for TV in general following the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It's a validation that the audience is looking to come back to familiar faces, and to laugh and be entertained again," he said.
The dropoff of "Family Law" (9.48 million, 3.3 in adults 18-49) kept CBS from taking the night, as it fell more than 30% behind its premiere numbers of last season, when it enjoyed a stronger lead-in.
Fox tied the WB for fourth in 18-49 (2.8/7) and was fifth in total viewers (6.55 million) with "Who Wants to Be a Princess," which was off by about 30% from last season's opening-night "Sexiest Bachelor" special.
Overall, viewership levels were high, with Nielsen reporting that 66.7% of the nation's households were watching TV in primetime -- up from last year's opening-night 64.5% and the highest on a Monday since January.