MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- In this age of remote controls, TiVo, Hulu and YouTube, do lead-in shows matter? Yes -- at least for TV's two true fall hits, as was evident in Tuesday's ratings-race results in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic.
Fox won -- as it does every week "American Idol" runs -- with an overall 6.1/16 rating and share, led by an 8.1/23 for "Idol." The show provides TV's best promotional platform, which freshman "Fringe" has taken advantage of. Last night it delivered a 4.0/10, compared with a 3.7/9 for "The Mentalist," the other first-year phenom, which has helped CBS be so successful in the broader measurements of total viewers and households.
After several weeks last fall when "The Mentalist" beat "Fringe" in the younger demo, having "Idol" as a lead-in has helped turn "Fringe" into not only one of Fox's most successful scripted series but the time-slot leader as well: Pre-"Idol," "Fringe" nipped "The Mentalist" by just two-tenths of a rating point, or 8%, 3.9 vs. 3.7. But the gap has slightly widened since "Idol," to 13%, as "Fringe" has risen 10%, while "The Mentalist" is up a more modest 3%.
Of course, what's most remarkable ratings-wise is not only that both have increased during such a dismal year for network TV, but that both are scripted series in an era of reality TV. Coming up on upfront season, that should give Fox and CBS, let alone their rivals, confidence that even if content isn't king, it still matters.
Overall, it was a steady night for third-place CBS (3.2/9), as '"NCIS," at 3.5/10, was second in its time slot with the first part of a series finale designed to spin off a new series. At 10 p.m. "Without a Trace" was down 11% from its season average, at 2.5/7, but also finished second (and won in households).
Lead-ins seemed to work well on second-place NBC (3.7/10) as well, as "The Biggest Loser," 3.6/9, was just below its average and led into a similarly rated "Law and Order: SVU," up 8% to a 3.9/11, which won the 10 p.m. hour.
The CW was consistent as well, albeit consistently low, as "Reaper," at .7/2, and "90210," at .9/2, were close to each other in ratings but far away from rivals. The network once again finished fifth, with a .8/2.
Fourth-place ABC (2.0/5) had neither lead-in nor lead-out leadership from the "Dancing With the Stars" results show, at 3.3/8, which was rated 230% higher than "According to Jim," at .9/3 and 1.0/3 for two episodes, and more than twice as high as lead-out "Cupid," which hit a series low 1.6/4.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: After President Barack Obama talks about what's next in Iraq and Afghanistan, see how the "Greatest Generation" dealt with war's aftermath on PBS's "Legacy of War," narrated by Walter Cronkite.
Thursday: ABC's "Private Practice" might have been having its series, not season, finale had it not been taken off life support after an emergency time-period transplant to Thursday nights, following "Grey's Anatomy."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Fox's decision to decline Obama's press conference in favor of "Lie to Me" has given the sagging show a much-needed, albeit unexpected, PR push. But will the buzz raise ratings?
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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.