The Top Five Hits of the Fall TV Season

Now that all of the major fall TV premieres are in the rear-view mirror (except for the troubled V, which doesn't bow for another month), it's time to separate the winners from the losers, the wheat from the chaff, the 30 Rocks from the Studio 60 on the Sunset Strips. Here are the winners, a countdown of the five most-watched shows of the new season (according to audience share, not total viewers, in the key 18-to-49 demographic), along with my thoughts as to why they attracted so many eyeballs.

No. 5: FlashForward (ABC)

As usual, ABC ran an aggressive, effective advertising blitz to promote its most promising shows. The effort paid off for this sci-fi drama, which is being groomed as a serial puzzler to fill the hole left when ends next spring. This was the biggest key to its success. As much as the show's creators tried to manage expectations and minimize comparisons to , ABC's marketing department knew better. They understood that is a phenomenon, one that many folks missed out on simply by missing the first episodes, then feeling like catching up would be daunting. "So you missed out on Lost," the promos seemed to say. "Well here's your chance to jump on board from the beginning." We'll see if the viewers stick around.

No. 4: Modern Family (ABC)

Another winner from ABC built on an effective campaign, but this was a much easier sell than , simply because it's the funniest new comedy of the season. The early buzz and reviews for this family mockumentary were almost unanimously enthusiastic. All that was required was to get to viewers to wonder if the show could possibly be as funny as those persnickety critics were saying it was. Fortunately, it is just that funny. And given that the second episode packs more laughs than the pilot (a rarity), has room to grow.

No. 2 (Tie): Cougar Town (ABC) and NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)

These big debuts were probably the easiest to predict. In the case of , it's a hit largely for the same reason the movie was a hit: it's got a fantastic title. With all things cougar being the rage right now, the Courteney Cox comedy was bound to attract some curious viewers. We'll find out soon enough whether they got what they were expecting, since the title, while intriguing, isn't the most accurate representation of the show. The spinoff of CBS's hit procedural was a no-brainer too. Unlike the rancid episode of from which grew, the backdoor pilot for was actually pretty good. Combine that with two likable stars, LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell, and you've got a hit on your hands.

No. 1: The Cleveland Show

To quote my favorite bit:
"To be honest with you Diane, I'm surprised." Perhaps I'm naive for underestimating Seth McFarlane's appeal, but I thought that with yet another carbon copy of on the air, Cleveland might suffer from McFarlane fatigue. Apparently not, as Cleveland's debut makes clear. Couple this with the fact that McFarlane had a cameo in the pilot, and it's clear he's the big winner of the fall season so far. Someone extinguish that guy, he's on fire.