MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- April Fool's Day primetime started with two series about deception. The one played straight -- Fox's "Lie to Me" -- lost to the one played as a prank, CBS's "I Get That A Lot." But as usual, the last laugh was had by Fox's "American Idol," which delivered an 8.4/21 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic to once again be the night's highest rated show. Combined with a 2.6/8 for "Lie to Me," Fox averaged a 5.5/15 to finish first, ahead of ABC (2.8/8), CBS (2.6/7), NBC (1.5/4) and the CW (1.1/3).
But the ratings race wasn't all grins for Fox, as the grim "Lie to Me's" delivery not only was a season low, but lost to the low cost, but highly rated, program premiere of "I Get That A Lot." CBS's combination of "Candid Camera" and "Punk'd" punked rivals, as it won the timeslot with a 3.4/10, out-delivering last week's Wednesday version of "Survivor" by 48% and the usual scripted series running during the hour --"The New Adventures of Old Christine" and "Gary Unmarried" -- by 55%.
And it wasn't only Fox which found itself feeling foolish: ABC's comedy combination of "Scrubs" (1.9/6) and "Better off Ted" (1.9/5) continued to underwhelm with "Scrubs" falling 10% from it's season average (although "Better off Ted" held its average), and NBC's repeat of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" (1.2/4) finished fifth, as the CW's "America's Next Top Model" (1.8/5) jumped 29% from last week and finished fourth in the timeslot, a rare event for the younger female-focused CW.
"I Get That A Lot," which features celebrities creating double-takes by working everyday-Joe jobs, is the type of media manna that networks need. But their success should startle scripted series creators, as cheap reality series crowd out higher priced -- and often lower rated -- shows. ABC's "Lost" (4.3/11), for instance, lost 9% of its regular viewers last night. And its lead-out, "Life on Mars" (2.0/6), after finding the translation tough from the BBC to ABC, had its series finale in only its first year.
While 11% more tuned in to see how "Life on Mars" ended, it still finished second to a repeat of CBS's "CSI: NY" (2.2/6), but did beat the 1.7/5 for a rerun of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" on NBC.
Other reruns repeated the pattern of scripted series being beaten down by reality TV. Up against "Idol," for instance, CBS's "Criminal Minds" (2.3/6) was off 38% from its original episode average, and the CW's "90210" (.5/1) squandered over 70% of its "Top Model" lead-in.
But even against original episodes, like last night's "Life" on NBC (1.5/4), scripted series had a bad April Fool's Day, and for the year probably feel like its "Groundhog Day," in which the same day -- and same ratings result -- is played over and over.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: The end not just of a show, but an era: No, not yesterday's announcement that after 15,700 episodes spanning 72 years on radio and TV, CBS's "Guiding Light" will go dark in September, but NBC's final night of "E.R."
Friday: Since NBC's "Friday Night Lights" has been unexpectedly renewed for two more seasons, it's not too late to get in on one of TV's best scripted series.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
With that other medical melodrama, ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," running a rerun, ratings should be even higher for "E.R."
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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.