The irony is not lost on anyone in TV. A look at the top program lists since official ratings started three weeks ago shows an uncomfortable truth for the Nine Network and its TV executives.

A program dreamed up at least 12 years ago and put into the schedule by David Leckie, Peter Meakin and John Stephens, is Nine’s most successful program so far this year. That program is RPA.

The network’s third most successful program, just behind the US crime drama, CSI, was commissioned by another former CEO, David Gyngell and put into the schedule by the Leckie/Stephens partnership six years ago. That program is Missing Persons Unit.

RPA is the best observational doco in the country: all other similar programs on commercial TV trace their birth back to that (and US series like CBS’s 48 Hours). And it has been winning the Thursday night battle at 9.30pm along with its lead-in, Missing Persons Unit.

Last Thursday night, RPA was watched by 1.5 million people nationally and 1.35 million watched MPU. That made RPA Nine’s only top 10 program. MPU came in at 12, just after CSI. Ten had one program in the top 10 (House); Seven had the other eight, starting with Ugly Betty and then Dancing With The Stars.

But with RPA about to finish to the AFL and NRL Footy Shows returning to Thursday nights (March 15), Nine will have to cope with the loss of around 300,000 to half a million viewers in that timeslot.

The Footy Shows will kick off with big numbers (although the NRL show is nowhere as popular in Sydney as the AFL program is in Melbourne), but combined they average around a million or more viewers from 9.30pm to 11pm and beyond.

Seven’s Lost is looking, well, “lost” on Thursday nights: just 1.15 million and not even the top show for the network on the night. And Seven has Bones at 9.30pm on Thursdays and it’s doing badly, averaging between 700,000 and 800,000 so far.

So long as Seven keeps Lost and Bones in the schedule Nine has a better than even chance of winning Thursday evenings, but Nine is struggling. Eddie’s McGuire’s idea for success is more coverage of the AFL in Melbourne and other southern markets, while his very expensive 1 vs 100 is fading. What’s the betting Eddie surprises by fronting the AFL Footy Show on the odd occasion to boost its profile with viewers?