NBC's special Thursday premiere of the new The Apprentice reality series scored the highest adult 18-49 rating for any preview or premiere of any new television series in a year.

According to updated in-home viewing figures from Nielsen Media Research, from 8:37-9:59 p.m. ET, the special Thursday premiere of The Apprentice (the program will normally air on Wednesdays) drew 18.5 million overall viewers and a 9.1/22 rating/share in the Adults 18-49 demographic.

The excellent ratings made The Apprentice the the highest new series preview/premiere rating since the debut of FOX's Joe Millionaire on January 6, 2003, which drew 18.61 million viewers and 10.1/22 in Adults 18-49.

In the three-and-a-half years since the May 2000 premiere of Survivor introduced mainstream network television viewers to reality TV, the only reality series to debut to a higher 18-49 rating than The Apprentice were Big Brother (following a highly rated episode of Survivor) and Joe Millionaire.

NBC Research estimates that 27.8 million viewers watched all or some of The Apprentice last night. The series, which tests the competitors' survival techniques in New York City's corporate jungle, is scheduled to move into its regular night and time period next Wednesday, January 14 at 8 PM ET (Ed's former timeslot).

In this special Thursday telecast, The Apprentice outperformed NBC's time period average by 47 percent (9.1 versus 6.2), by these preliminary numbers, generating NBC's highest rating in the time period since premiere week. Apprentice ranked #1 or #2 by virtually all key measures and was a clear winner in the 9 PM hour versus CBS' CSI among all younger adults (Adults, Men and Women 18-34).

NBC also got impressive results from 8-8:37 PM ET, when Friends (approximately 11.9/31 in 18-49, 25.5 million viewers overall) scored its highest 18-49 rating since September 25, during premiere week (with last night's rating likely to exceed or match that number when Nielsen updates these results). Friends hit a season-high in total viewers and dominated its time period in every key category, quadrupling its nearest competitor among adults 18-34.