'American Idol' Starts Strong

Rash Report: But Haitian Quake Coverage Puts Pop-Culture News Narrative in Perspective

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The week began with a remarkable run of news that seemed more Entertainment Weekly than Time: Conan O'Brien and Simon Cowell are out. Jay Leno and Sarah Palin are in. Ellen DeGeneres will soon appear, and Charlie Sheen never left, nor did his viewers.

'American idol'
'American idol' Credit: Fox
But suddenly, the horrific Haitian earthquake put it all back in perspective, both for the public getting caught up in the pop-culture distractions as well as for news organizations that are scrambling to cover the catastrophe.

So it could have been unusually bad timing for the ninth-season premiere of Fox's "American Idol," as the "reality" show is anything but, at least compared to the real, raw footage coming from Port-au-Prince. But either viewers hadn't yet caught up to the breaking news, or needed a break from it, as it actually out-delivered last year's first episode by a 10th of a ratings point with a 11.8/29 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.

As is usually the case with "Idol," it dominated demographically over CBS (3.5/9), NBC (2.8/7), ABC (1.0/3) and the CW (.3.1).

CBS, with its more august audience, held up best, as "NCIS" (4.3/11) held 96% of its season-to-date original episode average, although lead-out "NCIS: Los Angeles" (3.0/7), was off 21%. At 10 p.m., "The Good Wife" had the good fortune of not fighting "Idol," and it was actually up a 10th of a ratings point to a 3.0/8.

NBC's "Biggest Loser" (3.2/8) was just that against "Idol," as the reality competition slimmed down 30% against one of the originators of the genre. Right after, the "Jay Leno Show" (1.8/5) managed to finish second in the timeslot.

That's because finishing last at 10 p.m. was ABC's "The Forgotten," which was only remembered by a 1.2/3. But that was actually the high spot of ABC's night, as two episodes of "Scrubs" (0.8/2 for an 8 p.m. repeat and a 1.2/3 for an original an hour later) and "Better off Ted" (0.8/2 at 8:30 p.m. and 1.0/2 at 9:30 p.m.) drew viewers at a closer rate to reruns on the CW ("90210" and "Melrose Place," both 0.3/1).

But at the end of the day, and especially at dawn, when Haiti's devastation was more apparent, the only American idols who really seemed to matter were those involved in rescue and recovery attempts, as well as those who are giving generously to Haitian relief funds.

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

Wednesday: Continuing coverage of the earthquake. Need a break? ABC's "The Middle," "Modern Family" and "Cougar Town" have been renewed for next season. Watch the class of the freshman class, "Modern Family," at 9 p.m.
Thursday: The Golden Globe Awards are Sunday, and Oscar nominations are soon. Some nominees will stand the test of time, while some won't. Watch a classic that won Best Picture in 1958, when AMC airs "The Bridge Over the River Kwai."

CNN, which has fallen to fourth in some dayparts and demos in the cable news network ratings race, usually spikes for a "hard news" event. That is assuming the network can rediscover its roots and deliver the best broadcast journalism.

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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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