If you haven't noticed the start of the new fall television season, you should grab a bag of chips and settle in for a wondrous time of year for couch potatoes. The big networks launched new series this week, and a lot is on the line. Every fall, the networks are judged by the success of prime-time shows, and this year is no different. So here are a few of the big shows you may have missed.


New Shows

Hits -- New Season


The Event, Chase, Outsourced

30 Rock, The Office, Parenthood


My Generation, Better With You (7 new prime-time shows)

Dancing With the Stars, Grey's Anatomy


Hawaii Five-O, $#*! My Dad Says

Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory


Lone Star, Raising Hope, Running Wilde

House, Glee, Bones

The race is on
Ironically, Disney (NYSE: DIS) might have been fighting itself on Monday night with two hours of Dancing With the Stars on ABC and Monday Night Football on ESPN. That said, it still won the network battle with an average of 17.7 million viewers for Dancing With the Stars. After a tough '09-'10 season, ABC is hoping to pick up the slack with a completely revamped lineup.

NBC, a division of General Electric (NYSE: GE), had a decent opening with the The Event, but the rest of the week was slow as only Law and Order: SVU captured more than 10 million viewers. NBC's sister cable network USA has had plenty of success with White Collar and Covert Affairs, regularly landing more than 5 million viewers. I would think some of the brainpower behind USA's drama resurgence would make its way over to NBC at some point.

My surprise of the week was CBS (NYSE: CBS), which won the ratings battle Tuesday through Thursday showing NCIS and Big Bang Theory can still capture an audience.

The losers ...
News Corp.'s (Nasdaq: NWSA) Fox seems to be the big loser of the week. Its only new series on Monday, Lone Star, is likely on life support after a terrible opening night, and Fox spent most of the week in fourth place. The creative edge Fox gained with hits like The Simpsons and American Idol is fading as fast as Idol's ratings. After dominating the ratings battle of adults 18-34 last year, it will be tough to stay top dog having to fight off competition with an aging, stagnant lineup.

And the winners are ...
TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO) and Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX)!!! That's right, not the networks, but the services allowing us to watch what we want when we want. Recent years have seen ratings fall not only because of the proliferation of cable but the ability to watch a hit show you missed later, either on a DVR or DVD. Another television season will only bring more programming to Netflix on DVD and streaming video.

My network winner is by far CBS, which appears to be making the same show over and over but gets viewers to tune in. Who am I to argue a strategy that seems to be working. Maybe another NCIS is in order for next season?

A couch potato's bottom line
What does this week mean for investors? Well, one week doesn't make a season, but it can certainly tell the direction a network is heading. Fox appears to be resting on its laurels this year, which could come back to bite them. Idol is fading fast, and the loss of Simon Cowell puts a cloud over the series. I could see a fall from the top spot in the valuable 18-34 crowd advertisers covet.

So far, I like what both ABC and CBS are doing. CBS crushed everyone Tuesday through Thursday and appears to have good traction for the year. For Disney, ABC may not be performing fantastically, but how can you not like ESPN as a sidekick? Or is it the other way around?

More on media

Fool contributor Travis Hoium attempted to get off the couch this week and was unsuccessful. I also do not own any stock mentioned here. Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Walt Disney and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.