'Modern Family,' 'Criminal Minds,' 'Undercovers': Wednesday night ratings fight

wednesday-ratings-fight.jpgThere may not be a more up-for-grabs night in terms of ratings than Wednesdays this fall.

With no huge hits in anyone's lineup -- at least not until "American Idol" returns -- one breakout show could make a big difference. Here's how we think the night will shake out.  

The (relative) heavyweights:  "Survivor: Nicaragua" and "Criminal Minds" are the current top dogs in total viewers, although newly minted Emmy winner "Modern Family" could challenge them on that front this season. The ABC comedy also won the demographic battle with "Criminal Minds" last season; that will likely continue.

The veterans: Over the summer reruns of "The Middle" frequently drew bigger total audiences than did "Modern Family," which could be an indication that the show could grow some this year. "Cougar Town" is hoping to make a splash with Jennifer Aniston in the season premiere; ABC is hoping it can retain more of its lead-in. "Law & Order: SVU," meanwhile, will probably continue being its reliable steady self. Ditto for "Hell's Kitchen" and, post-World Series, "Lie to Me" on FOX.

The newbies: NBC has big hopes for its spy show "Undercovers," and it could carve out a decent niche (or possibly even more than that) at 8 o'clock. ABC's "Better With You" is hammocked between "The Middle" and "Modern Family" and probably needs the help it will get in that slot. "Hellcats" has done pretty well so far for The CW, though we're curious to see how the increased competition this week affects it.

The most interesting fight, though, will be at 10 p.m. ET. It's a wide-open slot with three new series -- ABC's "The Whole Truth," CBS' "The Defenders" and NBC's "Law & Order: Los Angeles" -- going at it. We suspect either "LOLA" and "The Defenders" will emerge as the leader, based mostly on lead-in strength; the abrupt change in tone from "Cougar Town" to "The Whole Truth" may not play very well with viewers.

The wildcard: DVRs and cable. With three unproven network shows at 10, viewers could opt to catch up on recorded shows or head further up the dial.

The DVR factor: The (likely) younger-skewing "Undercovers" will probably get a good bump in the live-plus-7 ratings, and CW shows tend to add a significant percentage (if not overly large raw numbers) in delayed viewing.

What's your Wednesday strategy this season? Which of the new 10 p.m. shows intrigues you most?

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Photo credits: ABC, CBS, NBC
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