'Fringe' Finally Beats 'The Mentalist'

Rash Report: But CBS Show Was a Repeat

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Fox's "Fringe" has TV's most envied lead-in, "American Idol." Would it be better off if it moved?

Last night 'Fringe' was up 18% to its second highest rating ever.
Last night 'Fringe' was up 18% to its second highest rating ever. Credit: Fox
As unlikely an outcome as that is, last night's Nielsen ratings suggest that it just may fare better by not running against original episodes of the season's one big breakthrough, CBS's "The Mentalist." Last night, "Fringe" finally beat the hit police procedural, but mainly because "The Mentalist" was a repeat and fell off a typical 22% from its normal average, as it delivered a 2.9/7 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.

Conversely "Fringe" (4.7/11) was up 18% to its second highest rating ever, and combined with a 9.8/24 for "Idol," gave Fox first place with an overall 7.3/18, well beyond second place NBC's 3.5/9 as well as CBS (3.2/8), ABC (2.1/5) and The CW (0.3.1).

"Idol" itself was watched by 9% more Americans in the demo than last week, when some skipped over to inauguration coverage of that other idol (although maybe not on Capitol Hill today), President Obama. But that's still about 16% less than the season premiere two weeks ago.

"The Mentalist" running a repeat didn't ruin the original episode ratings of the lead-in or lead-out programs, however, as "NCIS" (4.0/10) was up 8% over its season-to-date. And "Without a Trace" won at 10 p.m. with a 2.8/7, which was 4% above average.

This is to be expected, as CBS is usually the most "Idol"-resistant network anyway. But NBC has found an effective counterprogram as well, as a two-hour edition of "The Biggest Loser" gained 5%, weighing in with a 4.1/10. But then the network blew its balanced schedule by running a rerun of "Law and Order: SVU," which lost a third of its regular audience and fell to second in the timeslot with a 2.4/6.

This was just above the 2.3/6 ABC had at 10 p.m. with "Primetime: What Would You Do?" What ABC should do is to watch the audience track on this show closely, because despite "SVU's" repeat, the newsmagazine was off 18% from its normal levels.

Decisions have been made on moving "Scrubs," as the sitcom will soon operate on Wednesdays, wed to new comedy "Better off Ted" starting March 18. It can't hurt, as the double run doubled down with a 2.2/5 at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., which was only good enough for fourth in the timeslot. It's unlikely, however, that 8 p.m.'s "Homeland Security USA" will be moved, and indeed it shouldn't get too secure on the schedule at all, as the 1.7/4 is a series low for the three-week-old reality show.

And the creators of The CW's "90210" and "Privileged" may want to request a transfer as well (or more original episodes), as the two shows designed for demos watching (or appearing on) "Idol" were nearly lost last night, barely registering a 0.4/1 and a 0.3/1, representing a loss of three-fourths and a third, respectively, of original episode averages.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: It's awards season, so reward yourself with one of last generation's most honored actors, as four Jack Lemon films play on TCM.
Thursday: With ABC dramas and NBC sitcoms repeats, check out a new episode of CBS's "CSI" with new top cop Laurence Fishburne.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Ratings results for CBS's experimental run of the "CBS Evening News" in prime time. While it's highly unlikely to become a regularly scheduled newscast, who would have predicted NBC would move Jay Leno to primetime next season?


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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.

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