MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- It may be a new media age, but last night it was old-school entertainment of singing and dancing that made network prime time seem more vaudeville than video. Of course, vaudeville didn't have viewer voting like the night's top two programs, Fox's "American Idol" and ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," which had their penultimate and final programs of the spring season, respectively.
"Idol," as usual, topped "Dancing" -- and every other program -- with an 8.6/25 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, which was down 15% from last year's second-to-last episode.
"Dancing With the Stars," however, didn't miss a beat from last fall, as the 5.2/14 was just above the most recent finale and 18% higher than last spring's season finale. This was a viewing surge of 44% over its season average, as casual viewers came back to see Olympic gymnast -- and now "Dancing" winner -- Shawn Johnson. For the season, "Dancing" dipped 12% from the fall but was up 9% from the previous spring. At 8 p.m., a "Dancing" encore performance delivered a 1.8/5, which, combined with the two-hour finale's rating, meant ABC waltzed into second place with an overall 4.0/11.
Fox finished first, however, with a 6.3/17, as "Idol" was the warm-up act for the premiere of "Glee," next fall's critically acclaimed hourlong comedy about a high-school glee club. Time will tell if the innovative scheduling stunt will pay off next September, but compared with last May, when "Hell's Kitchen" ran after the Tuesday "Idol" finale, "Glee" (3.9/10) rated 25% lower.
CBS had three finales from its forensic-frenzied, successful season, and the network announced today it will have even more police procedurals next year. One of the new series will be a spinoff of "Idol" fighter "NCIS," which should not be a surprise, given the finale held last year's 3.4/10 and grew 9% for the season.
Next up was rookie hit "The Mentalist," which, up against "Dancing" and "Glee," held its 3.7/10 original-episode season average. Next year's finale should be even higher, as it is being moved to Thursday nights at 10 p.m. after a fading but still strong "CSI."
One show will be off the CBS forensic force next year, however: "Without a Trace." And it's no wonder, as last night's 2.5/7 for the season-turned-series finale was down 31% from last year's finale, and, for the season, "Without a Trace" reported 29% fewer viewers in the demo. Overall, CBS was third, with a 3.2/9.
At tomorrow's upfront presentation, the CW will probably announce that freshman drama "90210" will have a sophomore season. But it had better do something about its grades, as the teen drama's season finale tumbled 21% from its season average to a 1.1/3. "Reaper" began the night with a .7/2, and the network finished fifth with an overall .9/2.
NBC played out the season with two episodes of both "Most Outrageous Moments" (.8/3 and 1.0/3) and "Law and Order: SVU" (1.2/3 for a repeat and 2.5/7 for an original).
The lineup on the set, however, was certainly less entertaining than the lineup on the stage Tuesday evening. NBC concurrently held its own version of a vaudeville performance in Midtown Manhattan with Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Jerry Seinfeld, Tracy Morgan, Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler and Rainn Wilson doing stand-up routines. Some of the biggest laughs, however, were for Brian Williams, the straight-as-an-arrow news anchor who hosted the event. The comedy and a video montage of humorous, human moments from past and current comics showed that, despite NBC's fourth-place status, just one breakout hit can mean a reversal of ratings and revenue. Indeed, NBC should have just run the comedy concert live, as it probably would have been much higher-rated than the fifth-place 1.5/4 it ended up with last night.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: "Idol" addicts, and those recovering, can still drop in for the drama of who will win -- Adam Lambert or Kris Allen?
Thursday: NBC's above-average cop caper "Southland," which will be back on the network next season, has its season finale.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
"Idol"-finale ratings to be down compared with last year's but still well above those of any scheduled show this year.
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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.