On a more competitive night, the second episode of American Idol fell further in the ratings, while CBS and NBC stood tall against Fox's powerhouse.
Read our American Idol recaps
Meanwhile on cable, Jersey Shore set an MTV ratings record for the third week in a row, pulling in 8.9 million viewers.
Idol's New Orleans auditions drew 22.9 million viewers to handily win Thursday in both total viewers and the adults-18-to-49 demographic. However, the show was down 20 percent from its Wednesday premiere and 23 percent from last year's second episode. Bones received a nice post-Idol boost, drawing 10.9 million viewers.
CBS placed second for the night, with The Big Bang Theory (13.6 million viewers) and $#*! My Dad Says suffering only minor declines in the demo against Idol. CSI (14.3 million viewers) and The Mentalist (14.7 million viewers) were down 6 percent and 13 percent in the demo, respectively.
NBC's new three-hour comedy block also debuted well Thursday, taking the bronze medal for the night. Following a season-high episode of The Office (8.3 million viewers), Parks and Recreation returned from an eight-month hiatus to 6.2 million viewers and a series-high in the demo.
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Community (4.7 million viewers) matched a season-high in the demo, leading into freshman comedy Perfect Couples (4.2 million viewers), which performed 62 percent better than it did during its holiday-week preview. 30 Rock drew 5.3 million viewers in its new 10/9c timeslot, while Outsourced (4 million viewers) lost 33 percent of 30 Rock's audience in the demo.
ABC aired an original episode of Wipeout (8.3 million viewers) and repeats of Grey's Anatomy (4.7 million viewers) and Private Practice (3.3 million viewers). Repeats of The Vampire Diaries and Nikita each pulled in 1.3 million viewers for the CW.
Over on Bravo, the season finale of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills broke another record, bringing in 2.76 million viewers during the 9/8c hour. Combined with an encore performance at 10/9c, the reality show saw a series high of 4.2 million viewers.