On the heels of its best series Emmy win, ABC’s comedy Modern Family hit all-time highs in its return for a second season. But also in the ABC column was the most disappointing premiere last night, that of new legal drama The Whole Truth (1.5/4 in adults 8-49, 4.9 million viewers). Another night of no breakout freshman shows ala Modern Family last year, with CBS’ 10 PM dramedy The Defenders (2.9/8, 12.1 million) and ABC’s 8:30 PM comedy Better with You (2.5/7, 8 million) showing some promise, while the debut of NBC’s Undercovers (2.0/6, 8.6 million) at 8 PM was pretty underwhelming.

But while the pecking order at 8 PM and 9 PM on Wednesdays seems to have been established, with CBS’ Survivor dominating the 8 PM hour and Modern Family shining at 9 PM with CBS’ Criminal Minds running solid second, the 10 PM period is still up for grabs. So the solid showing of Law & Order: SVU, which dominated the hour last night, is encouraging news for NBC that the new Law & Order: Los Angeles would also do well when it premieres there next week. Here is a network-by-network rundown:

Need more proof that no scripted series can launch successfully at 8 PM on the Big 4 these days? How about J.J. Abrams’ spy romp Undercovers opening to a 2.0 rating last night. That was down 13% from what the far more modestly budgeted pilot of network’s now-defunct medical drama Mercy did in the time slot last year. And Undercovers finished a distant 4th in the 8 PM hour among 18-49. Law & Order: SVU did OK in kicking off its 12th season with a two-hour premiere. The 9 PM episode (2.9/9) was up 16% from the show’s 9-10 PM premiere last year, while the 10 PM segment (3.2/9) dominated the rookie competition in the hour, proving one more time that the Law & Order series belong at 10 PM.

Just like its fellow 2009-10 standout and Emmy rival Glee did the night before, ABC’s Modern Family came back with a vengeance for its second season with a 5.0/14 in adults 18-49 and 12.6 million viewers, up 19% from its series premiere last fall and hitting series highs across the board. There was more good news for the network’s comedy block with another sophomore, The Middle (2.6/8) faring 24% better than the series premiere of Hank in the slot last year. It was also up 4% from The Middle‘s series premiere at 8:30 PM last year. The new addition to the block, Better with You (2.5/7) did OK, dipping only slightly from its lead-in. But it was a disappointing start for sophomore Cougar Town. After opening big on the strength of lead Courteney Cox’ star power last fall, the comedy was trending lower for most of the season. Last night, it opened with a 3.3/9, holding onto a so-so 66% of its Modern Family lead-in. The biggest problem is that Cougar Town hit that soft number with Jennifer Aniston as a guest star. It the sitcom world, it’s hard to go much bigger than reuniting Friends alums Aniston and Cox. As for Whole Truth (1.5/4), there is not much to say. The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced legal drama was down a whooping 50% from the premiere of Eastwick in the hour last year. We know where that ended.

Carol
4 years
I like Undercovers and hope that it survives long enough for the charaters to develop.
chiknews
4 years
I love Undercovers, it's must see TV for me! I like the storyline and the characters. Maybe...
Undercovers Lover!
4 years
I, personally LOVE Undercovers and to see a positive Black cast on NBC is an added bonus....

Well, CBS’ Survivor (4.0/12 in 18-49, 12.5 million) is living up to its name, holding steady in its new Wednesday 8 PM time slot and crushing competition along the way. It was flat with last week’s premiere, and actually up a notch if compared to the debut’s fast national ratings. (Many CBS’ series tend to go up a .1 in the final ratings). At 9 PM, Criminal Minds (4.0/11), which was the subject of an off-season controversy over cast cuts, was down 9% from last season’s premiere but ran a solid second in the 9 PM hour. Ditto for Defenders, but it was down 28% from the season premiere of CSI: NY in the slot last year. (though the CSI: NY opener featured the resolution of a major plot cliffhanger.) CBS won the night in 18-49 (3.6/10) and total viewers (12.9 million)

Another solid opening for Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen (2.9/8), which was even with its summer premiere. While never in the lead, the two-hour Gordon Ramsay cooking show grew steadily throughout the night, sneaking past NBC and ABC to give Fox a second-place finish for the night in 18-49.

CW did OK weathering the primetime week storm last night as both of its series, veteran America’s Next Top Model (1.4/5 in adults 18-34) and freshman Hellcats (1.2/3) were flat from last week in the network’s target demo.