Fox's "The Mindy Project" drew 4.7 million viewers on Tuesday.
Fox's "The Mindy Project" drew 4.7 million viewers on Tuesday.

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"The Mindy Project" was down 23 percent from last year's "Raising Hope" premiere in this slot

Still, "Mindy Project" fended off its 9:30 p.m. comedy rival, NBC's "The New Normal"

Fox aired one episode of "New Girl" at 8 p.m., and another episode at 9 p.m. —  

Mindy Kaling vs. Ellen Barkin! Zooey Deschanel vs. Matthew Perry! Tuesday night unleashed a trio of new shows into competitive time slots: Fox’s “Ben & Kate,” CBS’ “Vegas” and — probably the most buzzed-about of the bunch — Fox’s “The Mindy Project.” Here’s how they stacked up.

First, Kaling’s debut disappointed a bit. “The Mindy Project” (4.7 million viewers, 2.4) was down 23 percent from last year’s “Raising Hope” premiere in this slot and dropped from its lead in. Still, “Mindy Project” fended off its 9:30 p.m. comedy rival, NBC’s “The New Normal” (5.2 million, 2.0). “Mindy” also performed better than Fox’s other new sitcom. At 8:30 p.m., “Ben & Kate” (4.2 million, 2.0) opened weak.

Both “Mindy Project” and “Ben & Kate” had the benefit of the same lead-in (weirdly). Fox aired a special “New Girl” (5.3 million, 2.7) at 8 p.m., then aired “New Girl’s” official regular time-period debut at 9 p.m. (5.2 million, 2.7). Both episodes delivered the same demo number, down a steep 44 percent from last fall’s series premiere. The 9 p.m. “New Girl” tied NBC’s “Go On” (7.3 million, 2.7). The Matthew Perry comedy was down a bit this week, but NBC will gladly accept this outcome against the return of a tough rival. Oh, why can’t all these sitcoms just be friends? (Friends?).

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At 10 p.m., CBS rolled out “Vegas.” I gotta confess: Thought I didn’t publicly bet on “Vegas,” I was starting to think this show could be a ratings surprise. So I was expecting a bigger number here. Vegas (14.7 million, 2.5) delivered a rather huge total audience for this slot, yet a weak adult demo rating (translation: a lot of older folks watched). Shows like “NCIS,” which we’ll get to in a minute, manage to have the best of both worlds — delivering a ton of older viewers, but also a big enough younger viewers to still kick butt where it counts (from an advertising perspective, at least).

The premiere of “Vegas” is … fascinatingly schizophrenic. Based on total viewers, “Vegas” drew the biggest CBS fall drama premiere audience this time period since “Judging Amy” in 2002. Vegas is also, based on the 18-49 demo, the lowest-rated CBS Tuesday drama premiere since something called “Century City” back in 2004 … I’m not even convinced that’s a real show. So “Vegas” breaks records in two different directions. Expect to see a lot of conflicting headlines around the Web about this one.

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So let’s take a step back now: CBS won the night; ABC came in fourth. The return of “NCIS” (20.2 million viewers, 4.1) was the night’s top-rated show and only down a smidgeon from last year, followed by a similar story for NCIS: LA (16.7 million, 3.4). In addition to its comedies, NBC had “The Voice” (11.3 million, 4.0), down 15 percent, and Parenthood (4.8 million, 1.8), steady. ABC had “Dancing With the Stars” (11.6 million, 2.0), which continued the all-star edition’s bummer ratings story this fall, down 31 percent. The return of “Private Practice” (6.6 million, 1.9) was down 32 percent from last fall’s Thursday premiere and down somewhat from Body of Proof in this slot last year — taking “Private Practice” off its “Grey’s Anatomy” life support on Thursdays firmly hurt it.

Now let’s taken an even bigger step back: All three of the newbies — “Mindy,” “Vegas” and even “Ben & Kate” — launched to a workable number … “Ben & Kate” just barely so. Comedies sometimes grow from their premieres, while CBS’ drama audience is like giant migrating herd that gradually shifts around the schedule as the viewers develop new habits. Let’s see what next week holds…

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