Young viewers form an ‘American’ band

Nearly one in three adults 18-49 watching TV tuned in

Fox execs were hoping for a moment like this — and they weren’t disappointed.

After weeks of escalating media and viewer interest, Wednesday night’s season finale of “American Idol” hit a Nielsen high note for the net, as nearly one in three adults 18-49 watching television tuned in to see Kelly Clarkson snag victory in the summerlong singing competish.

Excluding sporting events, the night gave Fox its largest-ever adults 18-49 share (and second best total viewer tally) for an evening of programming, as more than 40 million viewers caught at least some part of the two-hour broadcast.

Overall, the full two-hour “Idol” finale averaged 22.8 million total viewers and a whopping 10.7 rating/30 share in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen. The show’s ratings soared in its final half-hour, leaping to a staggering 13.0/33 in adults 18-49 and 28.0 million total viewers.

“I’m more than thrilled,” said Fox reality topper Mike Darnell. “There are almost no words to describe how we feel about the show and the numbers.”

Media spotlight

Equally amazing to Darnell was the media reception to Wednesday’s finale. NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” both led their broadcasts Thursday with news of Clarkson’s victory, while CBS’ “Early Show” also featured significant coverage.

Clarkson will continue her media tour with appearances on “The Tonight Show” and “Today,” where she’s expected to sing her first single, “A Moment Like This.”

RCA Records will rush release the single of “Before Your Love” and “A Moment Like This,” moving up the release date to Sept. 17.

“Idol” creator Simon Fuller, who launched the original U.K. “Pop Idol” as well, said he was equally gratified by the response to the format he launched.

“I’ve always believed that there isn’t as much difference between countries as people think,” he said. “If it’s a great idea, it’s a global idea. And a show that really involves the hearts and minds of a nation can have an immense effect.”

Pic plans

Fuller confirmed published speculation that he’s developing a feature film for “Idol” winner Clarkson and finalist Justin Guarini. Pic will mix elements of the duo’s real-life adventures with scripted shenanigans.

Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow gave props to numerous parties for the successful summer run of “Idol.”

“From Fox to Fremantle to 19 Entertainment to CAA, kudos all around,” he said. “Idol” will return early next winter, and while Fuller was originally worried about the short turnaround time between seasons, he’s now convinced the timing is right.

“It’s not worth the risk for someone else to come in and (steal the format),” he said. “It’s so rewarding to have a big hit show in America, I want to keep the momentum going.”

By the numbers

As for the ratings, Fox number-crunchers had no problem coming up with a slew of superlatives to attach to Wednesday’s “Idol,” which was produced by FremantleMedia and Fuller’s 19 Entertainment and packaged by CAA:

  • Two-hour wrap-up scored better viewer and demo numbers than any episode of the original summer run of ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” or any episode ever of NBC’s “Fear Factor.”

  • It outrated last May’s season finale of CBS’s “Survivor: Marquesas” in all young demos (though not in viewers). The original 2000 “Survivor” finale remains the champ of summer reality programming, having attracted over 50 million viewers.

  • Finale was Fox’s most-watched single non-sports broadcast in 2½ years and the net’s best summer performer in 12 years.

  • In addition to being the most-watched episode of “Idol,” Wednesday’s broadcast was actually up 20% over the already impressive viewer numbers for Tuesday night’s episode, which was billed as part one of a two-part finale.

Not surprisingly, the two-hour “Idol” whupped the competish, outrating ABC, CBS and NBC by 39% in adults 18-49 and a stunning 95% in adults 18-34.

Eye’s “Big Brother 3” still managed to pull a 3.9/10 in adults 18-49, down just a tad from its usual 9 p.m. Wednesday perf in recent weeks.

At 10 p.m., the latest installment of ABC’s Peter Jennings mini “In Search of America” once again went searching for viewers, averaging a 1.6/5 in adults 18-49 — well below what the net had been doing with the low-rated ABC News mini “ICU.”

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