MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The Nielsen ratings that quantify how many watch are the result of statistical science. What they don't account for is social science. But even a sociologist may have a hard time explaining why "Lost," the ABC drama whose opaque story line loses even faithful fans, rose 18% from last week to a 5.2/13 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic. And why Fox's "Lie to Me," the more episodic drama with an "American Idol" lead-in, eroded 13% from its most recent showing, to a series-low 4.1/10.
"Lost's" gain resulted in the show's best ratings this season, which may have helped lead-out "Life on Mars," which spiked 25% from last week to a 2.0/5. A "Lost" repeat started off the night with a 1.9/5, as ABC finished second, with a 3.0/8.
Of course, that was second to Fox (6.6/17), as "Lie to Me" combined with "Idol" (9.0/24), a show sociologists (and rival networks) have studied to determine how and why it's such a hit. But they may also want to study why even the biggest hits begin to lose viewers, as last night's "Idol" was down 5% to its lowest rating this season.
Figuring out CBS this season, which finished third last night, with a 2.8/7, might be more the work of a criminologist. The network's police procedurals have helped it mostly defy ratings gravity. But last night even CBS's forensic focus seemed affected by ABC's resurgence, as "Criminal Minds" (3.5/9) and "CSI: NY" (3.0/8) were down 8% and 14%, respectively, from their season-long original-episode averages. During the 8 p.m. hour, sitcoms "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (1.8/5) and "Gary Unmarried" (1.9/5) didn't feel the "Lost" effect, but rather were down due to "Idol," with "Christine" off 14% and "Gary" down 17%.
And forensics of a scientific, not a programming, kind may soon be in order for NBC's "Knight Rider" and "Life," as both are close to the ends of their prime-time lifespans after delivering only 1.5/4 each. Lead-out "Law and Order," conversely, seems to have reached TV immortality. Now in its 19th year, it locked up a 2.1/6, as NBC finished fourth, with an overall 1.7/4.
No advanced mathematical models or scientific studies are needed to explain the CW's results: Young adults won't watch reruns of dramas, as evidenced by the fifth-place .3/1 for "Privileged" and "90210."
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: With NBC showing reruns of "The Office" and "30 Rock," give your TiVo a rest by choosing between CBS's "CSI" and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."
Friday: Two Oscar-nominated films, "Apollo 13" on AMC and "Good Will Hunting" on Bravo, will get you in gear for Oscar weekend.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
NBC's "E.R." to show more of a pulse with the return of Noah Wylie, one of the breakthrough hit's original stars.
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.