The latest season of Donald Trump's The Apprentice got off to a somewhat rocky ratings start on Monday night, with the NBC's premiere of The Apprentice 5 failing to break the 10 million viewer mark and finishing in fourth place in the reality show's first broadcast in its new Mondays at 9PM ET/PT time period.

The Apprentice's fifth season premiere averaged only 9.76 million viewers, a performance that made it the least watched regularly scheduled Apprentice broadcast ever (a distinction that excludes two lower rated The Apprentice 4 broadcasts that NBC aired last Thanksgiving night.)

The 9.76 million viewers average actually wasn't much different than the 9.9 million viewers that last fall's Thursday night premiere of The Apprentice 4 averaged, however given that the show was moving into a less competitive CSI-less time period and, for the first time in some time, actually had the benefit of what turned out to be a relatively strong lead-in -- Deal Or Not Deal averaged 13.46 million viewers overall in its Monday 8PM ET/PT return to NBC's lineup -- the performance was disappointing (although NBC insists the premiere performed as it expected.)

Trump had touted the fact that he expected The Apprentice would receive a better lead-in on Mondays as one of the main reasons he was looking forward to his show's departure from an NBC Thursday night lineup that had floundered since the May 2004 finale of Friends.

"The one thing I really wanted for The Apprentice was a good lead-in, we've had really weak lead-ins [for] The Apprentice [lately]," The Donald boasted during a Monday appearance on Live with Regis and Kelly. "We did well despite the [weak Joey and Will & Grace] lead-in and now I think we're going to have a really good lead-in with Deal or no Deal."

Particularly concerning to NBC has to be The Apprentice 5's performance among the Adults 18-49 demographic most coveted by advertisers, where it also finished fourth in its time period (a drop from its typical second place finish, behind CSI, on Thursdays.)

However in addition to The Apprentice 5's relatively small total viewer dropoff compared to last season's premiere, there are at least two other reasons for NBC to remain somewhat optimistic about the new Apprentice season's ratings. For starters, one of the shows it finished behind -- ABC's third place The Bachelor: Paris -- was airing its two-hour season finale, an event that likely prevented some would-be Apprentice viewers from tuning into Trump's show (Supernanny will take over the ABC timeslot opposite The Apprentice beginning next week.)

Secondly, last season's The Apprentice 4 did manage to rebound a bit from its own disappointing premiere ratings, averaging 11.01 million viewers during its twelve regularly scheduled broadcasts, a performance that places it 35th (just behind 31st, 32th, and 34th ranked fellow NBC series Law & Order, Medium, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent) in the 2005-2006 television season's most recent season-to-date viewership rankings.