CBS pounded NBC in their first skirmish of the new TV season on Thursday, prime-time's richest night.

Most stunning, CBS's "Without a Trace" became the first drama ever to cop a bigger audience than an original episode of "ER" in the 10 p.m. slot. More than 21 million tuned in to the third season debut of CBS's crime drama, compared with just under 20 million for the 11th season debut of "ER."

Of course, it helped that "Trace" enjoyed a lead-in of nearly 31 million viewers, compliments of the season debut of "CSI." In fact, "Trace" actually fumbled 30 percent of its lead-in audience, but that still left it with enough viewers to clock its largest audience ever.

Though "ER" failed to crack 20 million viewers for the first time ever in a season-opening episode (it logged 19.7 million viewers), the aging drama put up a good fight.

What with Drs. Pratt and Chen clinging to life after their car plunged into the Chicago River when they were shot at by a passing motorist, Dr. Carter grieving over an unborn son's remains, and Dr. Weaver getting into it with a cop who wants to perform a pelvic exam on a woman who had stashed her stash in her private parts, the NBC doctor drama was still Must-See TV for 4 million more viewers than had tuned in to its lead-in, The Donald's "The Apprentice."

(Interesting, isn't it, how "Without a Trace" beat "ER" by only about 2 million viewers after heading into its slot with a 15-million-viewer advantage?)

The sensational storylines also helped "ER" beat "Trace" among the 18-to-49-year-old viewers whom advertisers pay a premium to reach.

But there was no raining on CBS's parade yesterday. The network put out a news release noting that it won Premiere Week Thursday in that key demographic group for the first time since 1990. Among viewers of all ages, CBS's win was its first for Premiere Week Thursday since at least 1987, which marked the advent of the people-meter ratings-measuring system.

(The CBS e-mail also mentioned that "ER" had "flatline[d]" on the first Thursday of the TV season -- you'd think CBS would want to stick to just the facts these days, and an 11-year-old series scoring 19.7 million viewers against a series that had a lead-in of more than 30 million viewers is most definitely not flatlining.)

With 30.6 million viewers, "CSI" beat NBC, ABC and Fox combined at 9 p.m. Opposite that fifth-season tsunami -- the biggest "CSI" debut ever, edging out its third-season debut by about 100,000 viewers -- the numbers for ABC's "Extreme Makeover" and Fox's totally outrageous Whatever-It-Is-This-Week followed by World's Craziest Fill-in-the-Blank aren't even worth mentioning, while the third episode of "The Apprentice" tossed about 3 million viewers compared with the third episode of the first edition of The Donald's reality show. Of course, the first edition debuted in the doldrums of January, not during Premiere Week.

A contestant on a 10-day adventure race that was being taped for broadcast on CBS was fatally injured Tuesday afternoon while competing on Orcas Island, Wash.

Nigel Aylott was killed when struck by a boulder, according to a representative for "Subaru Primal Quest."

Aylott, an Australian native, died after being struck by a 300-pound boulder while participating in the competition, which includes running, hiking, mountain biking and paddling, according to competition spokesman Gordon Wright.

Aylott's team was in the hiking portion of the 400-mile race, descending a steep slope, when a large boulder dislodged. He sustained fatal head injuries, Wright said.

After talking to Aylott's teammates and his family, who asked that the race continue, organizers resumed the competition. Aylott's team decided not to continue, Wright said.

The first "Subaru Primal Quest" aired on OLN; the second ran as a weekend afternoon special on CBS in January. This edition of the competition is scheduled to air Jan. 23 as a two-hour special on CBS.

Shannon Bream, a former Miss Virginia and Florida lawyer, is joining Channel 4's news team as the NBC station's new weekend morning anchor.

She replaces Mil Arcega, who left WRC last month "to pursue other opportunities," according to Channel 4's vice president of news, Vickie Burns.

Bream will start soon and eventually team with co-anchor Eun Yang, who goes on maternity leave next month.

Bream currently anchors the early-evening and late-night newscasts for CBS affiliate WBTV in Charlotte, where she's worked since 2001. She also has been a reporter and fill-in anchor at Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS.

Before hitting the small screen, Bream specialized in corporate law in Tampa. While there she beat 50 other competitors to be a "citizen panelist" on Bill Maher's now-defunct ABC late-night show, "Politically Incorrect," in fall '99.

In an interview with the Tampa Tribune about that national TV gig, Bream said she was a longtime conservative Republican. The paper also reported that the Tallahassee native graduated from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and studied law at Florida State. Bream did not return a phone call yesterday.

Crowned Miss Virginia in 1990, Bream also was a top 10 finalist in the 1991 Miss America pageant and a contestant in the 1995 Miss USA pageant.

In its 11th-season debut, NBC's drama "ER" trailed "Without a Trace" but still drew 19.7 million viewers.