MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Tuesday's presidential press conference shifted episode two of Fox's "American Idol" from Wednesday to Thursday, which gave Fox a victory in last night's Nielsen-ratings race. But the whole night seemed to shift as well, to an era when network prime time topped pop culture by counterprogramming with its best dramas, sitcoms, sports and reality TV.
The reality show that redefined the form -- "American Idol" -- delivered a 7.4/21 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic. It was followed by another leader in the genre, "Hell's Kitchen" (4.7/11), and they combined for a first-place 6.1/16 (all ratings based on Nielsen fast-affiliate data).
With an "Idol" lead-in, "Hell's Kitchen" heated up 20% higher than normal. But "Idol" itself was down 10% from the other nights it has run on Thursday and off 23% from its usual Wednesday elimination-round rating.
That drop was probably because of keener competition. Fox's rivals ran competitive counterprogramming, such as the NCAA basketball tournament on CBS, which delivered a third-place 3.5/9 during three hours of prime time (final live-plus-same-day data released this afternoon may increase those numbers).
March Madness probably pulled some away from the maternal madness in ABC's premiere of "In the Motherhood" and the mental madness of amnesia comedy "Samantha Who?" which both delivered a 2.1/6. The "Samantha" season time-slot premiere was only 70% of its October debut (which benefited from a cushy slot behind "Dancing With the Stars") and held about 88% of the regular audience for the show that usually runs in the time slot, "Ugly Betty." But despite the drop, a new series and a season premiere were bound to attract more viewers than another repeat of "Ugly Betty."
"In the Motherhood" and "Samantha Who?" also beat NBC's hour of "My Name Is Earl" (2.0/6) and a repeat of "The Office" (2.1/5). But both networks had higher ratings as the night progressed: ABC's medical melodramas, "Grey's Anatomy" (5.5/13) and "Private Practice" (3.8/10), indexed at 93% and 97%, respectively, of their original-episode averages to give ABC a second-place 3.8/10.
NBC's genre-defining version of the medical melodrama -- "E.R." (3.5/9) -- rose 9% for its penultimate episode, before next week's series finale. "E.R." followed Emmy-Award-winning sitcoms "The Office" (4.3/11) and "30 Rock" (3.4/8), which indexed at 95% and 100%, respectively, of their normal levels as NBC finished fourth, with a 3.1/8.
Basketball probably was the reason there was audience erosion of 12% and 14%, respectively, for the CW's guy-friendly dramas "Smallville" (1.5/4) and "Supernatural" (1.2/3). The CW finished fifth for the night, with a 1.4/4.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: It's the second day of the Sweet Sixteen on CBS.
Saturday: OK, hoops got you pooped? Sorry, Saturday's the worst night for network TV scripted series. But why not mix it up with another sport? NBC carries the World Figure Skating Championships from Los Angeles.
Sunday: Then get away -- far away -- from it all by watching the Botswana-based "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," which has its HBO series premiere.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
This weekend's hoops to give way to next week's hype around the series finale of NBC's "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.