Fox Delivers Broadcast Box Office With Boffo 'Idol'

Rash Report: Counterprogramming Still Not Making a Dent

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- "Hooray for Hollywood!" is what "American Idol" fans and Fox executives may be saying today after last night's two-hour "Hollywood" round was big box office on the small screen. With a dominating 9.5/23 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, Fox's Wednesday margin of victory made rivals look like elements of the movie industry as well.

'American Idol': Big box office on the small screen.
'American Idol': Big box office on the small screen. Credit: Fox
ABC, for example, seemed to channel Miramax, which is also owned by ABC parent Disney. Miramax, embraced by critics for artistic integrity but eyed warily by theaters for inconsistent box office, has the night's highest-rated scripted series, the award-winning "Lost," which delivered a 4.4/10 for an original episode at 9 p.m. and a 1.6/4 for a repeat at 8 p.m. But "Lost" is losing viewers weekly: Last night's original episode was 6% lower than last week's and 12% below the season premiere a month ago.

The lead-out for "Lost," "Life on Mars," has also been a critical -- if not a commercial -- favorite, and it, too, has lost audience weekly in its new Wednesday time slot. Last night's 1.6/4 was 20% lower than last week and nearly a quarter lower than the time-period premiere two weeks ago. ABC fell to third place, with a 2.6/6.

Conversely, CBS has, for the most part, defied network TV gravity by programming its schedule like a movie studio that may perform poorly among critics but not on box-office top-10 lists. Last night it finished second, with a 2.7/7, as "CSI: NY" won the 10 p.m. hour with a 3.1/8, just a bit above the 3.0/7 for its police-procedural lead-in, "Criminal Minds." And although, like every show running up against the first hour of "Idol," its sitcoms performed poorly, "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (1.9/5) and "Gary Unmarried" (2.1/5) were Fox's highest-rated competition."

NBC lately seems like Dreamworks: a quality brand with a legacy of big, breakthrough hits. But in today's challenging environment, even Steven Spielberg struggles. "Knight Rider" and "Life" bottomed out at 1.3/3, while "Law and Order," which dates back to NBC's prime-time prominence last decade, fell 13% from its original-episode average to a 2.0/5. NBC finished fourth for the night, with a 1.6/4.

The CW ran repeats of "Privileged" and "90210" that mustered only .4/1, which was also the network's fifth-place overall average.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: CBS's "Survivor" is a survivor story in its own right, starting its 18th season at 8 p.m.
Friday: Once-buzzed-about "Dollhouse" somehow ended up in Fox's doghouse: The Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") production has been relegated to a tough (if not impossible) time slot for reaching its intended young-adult audience.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
"Survivor" to not quite thrive, given its TV tenure, but make CBS once again a formidable force on TV's most crucial night, Thursday.

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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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