Nellie Andreeva

The broadcast season unofficially kicks off tonight. And just like in a kids board game, the youngest of the networks, the CW, got to start first, unspooling its new series Ringer starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Also launching tonight are the new seasons of the CW’s 90210 and NBC’s Parenthood, marking the unofficial start of the new season, which kicks in on Monday. Here are the networks’ standings going into the fall season:

With Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies on tap for baseball’s postseason this year, along with the heavily promoted The X Factor and new big-budget dinosaur drama Terra Nova, Fox is in a position to significantly outperform last fall when the network carried the National League Championship Series and had two DOA shows, drama Lone Star and comedy Running Wilde. The question marks at the network this fall are the new comedies, New Girl and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, though both are propped up by solid lead-ins, Glee and X Factor, respectively, and whether Glee and House can rebound after a disappointing 2010-11 season. If the stars align and X Factor lives up to its ratings expectations, Fox may win the fourth quarter as it did two years ago when it also had the American League Championship Series and the highly rated freshman season of Glee.

Fox’s main rival for the top spot in the fall will be the epitome of stability, CBS, which will get a ratings boost from the re-launch of Two and a Half Men. The consensus is that CBS has potential breakout hits on its hands with new Monday comedy Two Broke Girls, which is launching behind the much-hyped return of Two and a Half Men, and possibly Thursday drama Person of Interest. The network is getting high marks for taking its aging series such as the CSI franchise and Survivor and relocating them to troubled spots on the schedule that they shore up. The network is expected to accomplish that again this season with the mothership CSI series, which is moving to Wednesday 10 PM, with its replacement on Thursday, Person of Interest, looking to do at least as well as CSI if not better. The only question marks at CBS are new Thursday 8:30 comedy How To Be a Gentleman and where Men will settle after the initial ratings spike.

Three Words — Sunday Night Football. With the NFL football ratings monster showing no signs of slowing down as evidenced by Sunday’s opener, which drew the franchise’s largest ratings ever, NBC is assured at least a third-place finish for the fall. With the Super Bowl slated for February, NBC looks poised to finally move up a spot from the dreaded bottom No. 4. Still, a lot of question marks. The biggest one in the fall: The Sing Off. Only tested as a short holiday limited series airing with no competition, the singing competition is now thrown against ABC’s reality juggernaut Dancing With the Stars, given two whole hours of primetime real estate and asked to carry Monday, including launching new drama The Playboy Club at 10 PM. All of NBC’s new scripted series are question marks too, the biggest being comedies Up All Night and Free Agents given the difficult task of opening a second comedy block on Wednesday.

The good news for ABC is that its attempt to open a second comedy block on Tuesday seems to have a stronger anchor in the Tim Allen freshman Last Man Standing. The network has locked in a Dancing With the Stars cast that people are buzzing about and should get a small bump from making this the final season of Desperate Housewives. Other than that, there isn’t much else that is certain, with all of the network’s new series as question marks. Unless something breaks in a big way, with no major sports to fall back on for most of the season, ABC is destined to fall to fourth.

The network is taking one big risk with Ringer, which is older-skewing, more complex and more sophisticated than the regular CW fare. The rest is adding more of what works, with another soap, Hart of Dixie, and another Alloy-based genre piece ala Vampire Diaries, The Secret Circle. Without a breakout hit in the past couple of seasons and with Smallville gone, the CW needs one this year.

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