'Bachelor' sees season high

HOLLYWOOD — With three weeks to go to the finale, “American Idol” dominated its hour Wednesday and helped Fox catch NBC for the May sweep’s demo lead after the opening week.

Night also saw new ratings highs for the current edition of ABC’s “The Bachelor” but sharp year-to-year declines for NBC’s “The West Wing” and UPN’s “Enterprise.”

Tied in the key adults 18-49 demo with a 4.4 rating/13 share, Fox is up 22% year-to-year while NBC is down 12%, according to Nielsen. NBC also leads in adults 25-54 (5.1/13), with Fox first in adults 18-34 (4.5/15).

Fox and the WB are the only nets showing year-to-year growth.

Helping Fox pull even was Wednesday’s expanded hourlong seg of “American Idol” (9.0/26 in adults 18-49, 20.16 million viewers), which topped the combined 18-49 scores of ABC, CBS and NBC from 8 to 9.

Lead-out laffer “Bernie Mac” also won its half-hour (6.4/16 in A18-49, 13.77m) and “Wanda at Large” (5.3/13 in A18-49, 11.27m) delivered a solid second-place demo finish with its season finale at 9:30.

At ABC, “The Bachelor” collected the best numbers for its current edition (6.4/16 in A18-49, 13.28m), winning virtually across the board, and new reality series “Extreme Makeover” (5.2/14 in A18-49, 11.32m) was again a strong second at 10. From 8 to 9, “My Wife and Kids” (2.9/9) and “George Lopez” (3.4/9) both were second to Fox in 18-49, with guest star Hilary Duff (“Lizzie McGuire”) seeming to boost “George,” which built nicely on “Wife” despite facing the big second half of “Idol.”

NBC was led by “Law & Order” (first-place 6.4/17 in A18-49, 18.09m) and “West Wing” (4.5/11 in A18-49, 13.18m); the latter placed third in 18-49 and was down 29% year-to-year. This is not as steep a falloff as the drama was seeing in February, though, as it began to lose its ratings steam around this time last season.

CBS, with “Star Search” (2.0/6 in A18-49) overwhelmed by “Idol,” was out of the game Wednesday, finishing 14 shares out of the 18-49 lead and 11 shares back in 25-54.

UPN’s “Enterprise” (1.7/5 in A18-49, 4.08m) was off by a big 39% in 18-49 vs. its opening-week May perf of a year ago, while the WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” and “Angel” combined for slight year-to-year growth.

For the sweep, the Frog is up 11% in 18-34 vs. its opening week last May.

The adults 18-49 averages: NBC (4.4/13, down 12% in rating vs. a year ago), tied with Fox (4.4/13, up 22%); CBS (3.5/10, down 15%); ABC (3.2/9, down 11%); the WB (1.8/5, up 6%); UPN (1.4/4, down 18%).

In total viewers, CBS leads with 12.83 million (down 4%).

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