What a difference a week, and one show, can make. After watching the third night of FOX's American Idol third season premiere destroy NBC's previously dominant The Apprentice series in the ratings, NBC immediately concluded that the only action to take when facing an unstoppable force is to quickly get out of the way -- and moved Apprentice off to Thursdays at 9 PM ET/PT (via CBS' CSI) for the duration of its fifteen episode run. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire.

According to preliminary Nielsen ratings information, The Apprentice drew 12.3 million overall viewers and a 4.9 rating, 12 share in the Adults 18-49 demographic, a steep drop from the monster 20.2 million overall viewers and a 10.0/25 rating/share numbers that last Thursday's post-Friends episode drew. In comparison, similar to Idol's Monday performance, Wednesday's broadcast drew over 29.43 million viewers and a 12.7 rating/32 share in Adults 18-49 (more than the other five broadcast networks combined) as the FOX juggernaut concluded its three-day ratings rampage.

With CBS' Survivor: All-Stars returning to the Thursday lineup in two weeks on February 5 and Survivor and Apprentice executive producer Mark Burnett assumed to have a non-compete clause with NBC that made returning Apprentice to its previous 8:30-9:30 PM ET/PT not an option, NBC has opted to do the next best thing and move Apprentice to 9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT.

To make move for Apprentice, previous 9:30 PM ET/PT tenant Will & Grace will move to 8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT, bumping Scrubs to Tuesdays -- a move NBC hopes both prepares Scrubs for its likely Fall 2004 post-Frasier Tuesday night beachhead role and gives the network a stronger 8:30 PM ET/PT entry in its attempts to blunt CBS' expected blockbuster Survivor: All-Stars edition.

On the other hand, the moves leave The Apprentice facing a dead-on 9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT showdown with CBS' CSI -- which is no small task, considering that until FOX's American Idol came along this week, CSI had been the top-ranked television program of the 2003-2004 schedule. Closing out NBC's three night lineup shuffle, former Tuesday night occupant The Tracy Morgan Show gets the network kiss of death and moves to Saturdays -- where few expect to hear from it again -- while encore episodes of the previous Thursday's Apprentice episodes will air in the program's originally intended Wednesdays 8PM ET/PT time period.

"Two of the hottest shows on television right now are 'The Apprentice' and 'American Idol.' We think it's a disservice to viewers to have them squaring off against each other, " said Mitch Metcalf, NBC Senior Vice President of Program Planning and Scheduling in announcing the moves. "We consider these moves a 'win-win' for NBC and the audience."

According to Daily Variety, the swift nature of NBC's reaction to last night's ratings left the other networks surprised -- particularly considering that, as we reported yesterday, Idol's special Wednesday night hour-long episodes will soon end as the program reverts to its usual Wednesdays 8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT time period. But apparently even the threat of going up versus half an Idol broadcast was too much for NBC, since, after only two weeks, the network has reported already anointed The Apprentice as it's Next Great Thursday Night Hope.

Yes, you read that right -- according to Variety, NBC has quickly come to see The Apprentice as a possible "key component" of its Fall 2004 post-Friends Thursday night schedule. Which means if they're right, one can only wonder if the viewer convenience of having back-to-back Burnett produced reality shows airing on Thursdays would not be more than off-set by the frustrating "super-sized" and "time-shifted" scheduling games that NBC and CBS might undoubtedly get into as they attempt to counter-program each other. You can be certain that CBS president Les Moonves is already fuming over the possibility that Burnett's Apprentice program -- which is so derivative of Survivor that parallels are stunning -- is now putting CSI's top-ranked status in jeopardy.

If, as reported by some media outlets last week, Burnett truly was steamed over CBS' planned attempt to counter-program Apprentice's originally scheduled Wednesday telecast of its second episode (which was eventually moved to Thursday) with a special CSI broadcast, then we can only guess that the relationship between the two might get even a bit more agitated in the weeks to come.