NBC landed three season or series premieres in Nielsen's top 10 last week, giving the network a ratings victory and leading top executive Jeff Zucker to pronounce its early start strategy a success.

"Joey" (search) was the week's most popular show, with 18.6 million people watching the premiere of the "Friends" spinoff, according to Nielsen Media Research.

NBC's "Medical Investigation," (search) occupying the "ER" Thursday time slot for a week, was sampled by 11.8 million people.

NBC started several of its series early to take advantage of heavy promotion time during the Olympics last month. Zucker, speaking Tuesday after a "Law & Order" event in Manhattan, said he was pleased with how many viewers turned out.

Until all of the networks have started their season, however, it's hard to tell what these early starts will ultimately mean.

Even though the season premiere of "The Apprentice" (search) finished in Nielsen's top 10, its audience of 14 million was considerably off the 20.7 million average for the series' first run. Zucker said the show was half a ratings point below expectations.

After all the fuss over competing boxing reality series, Fox's "The Next Great Champ" received a punch in the stomach when only 5 million viewers watched the premiere.

For the week, NBC averaged 8.9 million viewers (6.0 rating, 10 share) and dominated among the 18-to-49-year-old audience it seeks. CBS averaged 8.4 million (5.7, 10), ABC had 7.2 million (4.8, 8), Fox had 6.1 million (4.0, 7), the WB had 3.1 million (2.1, 3), UPN had 2.4 million (1.7, 3) and Pax TV had 780,000 (0.5, 1).

NBC's "Nightly News" won the evening news ratings race, averaging 9.5 million viewers (6.8, 14). ABC's "World News Tonight" had 8.6 million viewers (6.1, 13) and the "CBS Evening News" had 6.7 million (4.8, 10).

A ratings point represents 1,096,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 109.6 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Sept. 6-12, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "Joey," NBC, 18.6 million; NFL Football: Indianapolis at New England, ABC, 16.9 million; "2004 NFL Showcase," ABC, 14.7 million; "The Apprentice 2," NBC, 14 million; "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," CBS, 13.3 million; "CSI Miami," CBS, 12.5 million; "NFL Post-Game Show," Fox, 11.8 million; "Medical Investigation" (Thursday), NBC, 11.8 million; "Law & Order," NBC, 11.7 million; "The Amazing Race 5," CBS, 10.8 million.