LOS ANGELES - At first glance, the new TV season looks less than heroic.
There's been no water-cooler hit akin to last year's "Heroes," although two newcomers, "Pushing Daisies" and "Private Practice," hold promise. And after a spring audience exodus, network viewership compared with last fall is down as much as 10 percent by one measurement.
Broadcasters have no one to blame but themselves, contends one analyst.
"The networks haven't delivered the compelling new shows that viewers get excited about," said Shari Anne Brill of ad-buyer Carat USA. She recalled instant hits "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" from seasons past.
With the top networks delivering a combined 40 million weekly viewers to advertisers, broadcasting remains a potent platform, said Marc Berman, analyst for Media Week Online. But the medium is only as strong as its programming.
"Did the networks really put on anything that people said, `Wow, I have to watch this?' " Berman said.
As far as new shows go, the answer is a resounding no.
Through the first few weeks of the season, the frontrunners aren't heavily promoted newcomers, but returning stalwarts. CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and "Grey's Anatomy" each drew more than 19 million viewers last week to lead the ratings.
After strong debuts, "Private Practice" and "Pushing Daisies" failed to break into last week's top tier but ranked 18th (12.4 million) and 30th (10.3 million), respectively, among total viewers. Also showing potential were NBC's "Bionic Woman" and ABC's "Women's Murder Club."
Latecomer "Murder Club," starring Angie Harmon, drew more than 10.8 million viewers in its Oct. 12 debut to score as the most-watched new show for the week.
Borderline entries that could still get traction include "Dirty Sexy Money," "Big Shots," and "The Big Bang Theory."
Then there's "K-Ville," an ambitious police drama set in post-Katrina New Orleans, which drew just 5.3 million viewers last week. But Fox is not ready to pull the plug, said Preston Beckman, Fox's executive vice president for strategic planning.
"We like what we're seeing," Beckman said. "The ratings are not spectacular but it's a show we hope we can get more people to come and sample."