October 08, 2003 12:18 PM

With new shows faltering and old favorites fading, NBC faces what may turn out to be a challenging fall season, according to the latest Nielsen ratings.

Although the network is No. 1 with the desirable 18- to 49-year-old demographic, the network’s popularity is down against last year’s numbers, with Friday-night viewership falling a dramatic 40 percent from the same night a year ago, reports the Associated Press.

Onetime “must-see” hits “Friends” and “Frasier” — both in their final years — have slipped as well, with the Kelsey Grammer vehicle taking second place in its time slot this past week, behind ABC’s “According to Jim.”

CBS topped the prime-time ratings rivalry for the second week of the TV season, with “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” the top-ranked show; “Everybody Loves Raymond” at No. 4 — behind “Friends” and “ER” — and two other shows (“Survivor: Pearl Islands” and “CSI: Miami”) rounding out the top 10.

Third-place rival ABC is still struggling. Although its “Monday Night Football” landed in the top 10, the network’s only non-sports entry among the top 28 prime-time shows was “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” which got a lift for late star John Ritter’s final episodes.

For the week, CBS averaged 13.1 million viewers, NBC had 10.9 million viewers, ABC, 9.8 million and FOX, 9.6 million. The WB had 4.6 million and UPN had 3.4 million.

Here’s a rundown of the week’s top 10 shows:

1. “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 26.7 million viewers
2. “Friends,” NBC, 22.4 million
3. “ER,” NBC, 20.8 million
4. “Everybody Loves Raymond,” CBS, 20.5 million
5. “Survivor: Pearl Islands,” CBS, 19.7 million
6. “NFL Monday Night Football: Green Bay at Chicago,” ABC, 17.7 million
7. “Law & Order,” NBC, 17.5 million
8. “CSI: Miami,” CBS, 17.3 million
9. “Scrubs,” NBC, 17.2 million
10. “Will & Grace,” NBC, 16.8 million

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