‘Grey’s Anatomy’ starts in top shape

HOLLYWOOD – The young docs beat the forensic cops.

ABC’s bold move to shift “Grey’s Anatomy” to one of television’s most competitive nights against CBS powerhouse “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” paid off handsomely, delivering a clear ratings victory to a network that had been largely forgotten on Thursday nights for years.

“Grey’s Anatomy” opened its third season by drawing an estimated 25 million viewers, while “CSI” attracted 22 million, according to early data from Nielsen Media Research.

“Grey’s” numbers mark the first time since April 2004 that a non-season-finale of any series has topped a new episode of “CSI,” which was the most popular scripted show on television last season.

“We honestly didn’t know what to expect,” ABC Executive Vice President Jeff Bader said Friday morning. “It’s one of those rare times in television when two great shows are put up against each other and anything can happen.”

The series premiere of “Six Degrees,” a high-profile drama from J.J. Abrams’ production company that reportedly has suffered creative strife behind the cameras, followed “Grey’s” and benefited from the hospital soap opera’s huge showing. But its 13 million viewers was a 47 percent drop from the “Grey’s” audience and was good enough for a only a third-place showing behind NBC’s veteran “ER” and CBS’ series premiere of “Shark.”

“It’s way too soon to read anything into their numbers,” Bader said about “Six Degrees.”

CBS officials acknowledged a defeat but emphasized that although the network lost to ABC among 18- to 49-year-olds, it still scored a victory on the night overall with 18 million viewers.

“It’s OK, we’ll live,” said Kelly Kahl, CBS’ scheduling chief. “ABC had a great performance. They’ve got a hot show, and they deserve congratulations. But ‘CSI’ hung in there.”

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