MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- NBC ended one cop caper, as "Life" had its season finale. ABC began another, with the program premiere of "The Unusuals." But it was the usual suspects -- "American Idol" and "Lie to Me" -- that rounded up the most viewers, allowing Fox to finish first with an overall 5.3/15 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, ahead of CBS (2.9/8), ABC (2.6/7), the CW (1.3/4) and NBC (1.2/3).
The promising premiere news for "The Unusuals" is that it increased 11% over the season average for the show previously in the time slot, "Life on Mars." But that drama orbited out of ABC's plans after it lost too much of the lead-in audience from "Lost," and last night "The Unusuals" was able to hold only 55%. More foreboding, only 79% stuck around for the second half hour, suggesting some sampled and then tuned out.
As for "Life," it barely showed any, as the serialized drama never recovered its ratings after last year's writers strike. Last night's 1.3/3 underdelivered its season average by 24% and, worse yet, compared with last year's series premiere, only a third bothered to show up last night to see how the show ended. That means last night was probably the series, not season, finale of "Life."
Even for more-established police procedurals, it was an uneven night. Sure, "Lie to Me" (2.5/8) won its time slot, but it was off more than a third from its original-episode average. CBS's "CSI: NY," conversely, won its 10 p.m. time slot by holding its average and locking up a 3.3/9, which was the same rating for lead-in "Criminal Minds." But "Criminal Minds" slipped 11% up against "Idol." NBC, whose "Law and Order" spawned a genre of cop shows a generation ago, ran two reruns and delivered only a 1.1/4 at 8 p.m. and a 1.2/3 at 10 p.m.
The night's only non-cop drama, ABC's "Lost," lost 19% of its original-episode average and delivered a 3.8/10 for its lowest-rated original episode yet this year.
Sitcoms were split as well. CBS was consistent, with "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (2.1/7) and "Gary Unmarried" (2.2/7) holding their averages. ABC's "Scrubs" (1.9/6) and "Better off Ted" (1.7/5), conversely, hit season lows, losing 10% and 11%, respectively, of their original-episode averages.
Instead, as usual, it wasn't "The Unusuals" or any other drama that carried the night, but reality TV. "Idol" (8.0/20) wasn't a surprise, but its audience erosion of 16% might be, as the series should be stable -- or gathering strength -- as the competition gets closer.
That left the CW with the night's best success -- at least compared with its usual performance -- as "America's Next Top Model" (1.7/5) held its average and a "Top Model Rewind" show (.9/2) was up 50% over the usual rerun of "90210," allowing the CW to surpass NBC for fourth place. Now that's unusual.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: Maybe the better question would be what to DVR. After all, there are three program premieres tonight: CBS's murder mystery "Harper's Island" at 10 p.m, which will run up against NBC's cops 'n' robbers series "Southland." Earlier, Amy Poehler will find out if she's a ready-for-prime-time player as her sitcom, "Parks and Recreation," makes its debut. And that doesn't even account for fresh episodes of "CSI" and "Survivor" on CBS, plus two "Office" originals and "30 Rock" on NBC!
Friday: If Thursday night is an embarrassment of riches, Friday, with the notable exception of NBC's "Friday Night Lights," is an embarrassment. So time travel -- cinematically and sociologically -- via Volkswagen Beetle as TCM runs 1969's "The Love Bug," and then switch to "Herbie: Fully Loaded," the Lindsey Lohan remake from 2005.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
In with the new Thursday night but up with the old, as CBS's seasoned series "Survivor" and "CSI" should carry the night, particularly with ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" running reruns.
~ ~ ~
NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.