Fox sees very ‘Smart’ start

Gameshow premiere gets 'Idol' hand

Fox schooled the competition Tuesday, earning an A+ for the premiere of gameshow “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?”

Unscripted Mark Burnett skein, in which youngsters help adult contestants answer school-book questions in a classroom setting, held on to most of its lead-in from “American Idol” to become the highest-rated series debut among young adults on any net in 5½ years.

Perf adds another weapon to a Fox arsenal that already includes multi-night powerhouse “American Idol” and top-5 drama “House.” Its perf on Tuesday clinched the February sweep for the net and greatly improves Fox’s chances of an outright season victory in adults 18-49.

Coming out of a 90-minute edition of “American Idol” (12.2 rating/30 share in adults 18-49, 30.65 million viewers overall), “Fifth-Grader” averaged a huge 11.2/26 in the demo and 26.48 million viewers overall.

This is Fox’s best 18-49 premiere rating since “Family Guy” bowed behind the Super Bowl in 1999, and it’s the best on any net since NBC’s “Inside Schwartz” (behind “Friends”) in September 2001.

Fox alternative guru Mike Darnell said he was “floored” by the boffo numbers.

“I knew it was a clever premise, and Mark (Burnett) was great to work with on this,” he said. “They did a marvelous job, especially since it was only seven or eight weeks from pitch to air.”

Darnell said the show was helped by an easily promotable premise — and a title that says it all.

“It’s so obvious and one of those premises that you get right away,” Darnell said. “It’s a relatable concept. Anybody who has kids goes through this — the point where you can’t do homework with them anymore because you don’t have the answers.”

The 92% retention of “Idol” in 18-49 is a significant improvement for Fox over the results of the five shows it preemed or aired as specials behind the juggernaut a year ago. The 2006 skeins to fare best in their bows were the unscripted “Unanimous” (62%, 7.1 vs. 11.4) and comedy “The Loop” (57%, 6.5 vs. 11.5).

It beat the combined ABC-CBS-NBC-CW competish at 9:30 by 17% in 18-49 (11.2 vs. 9.6) and by 52% in viewers 12-34 (9.9 vs. 6.5). “Fifth-Grader” actually built on “Idol” in teens (8.7/28 vs. 8.3/26).

Fox has picked up six segs of “Fifth Grader,” but Darnell said the net might be able to squeeze out a few more episodes with footage that has already been shot. Beyond that, the net may wait to see another result before committing to more episodes.

Show, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, aired a second 30-minute segment Wednesday night behind “Idol” and will play tonight and March 8 at 9 o’clock following “Idol” results shows. It will then air Thursdays at 8 — when Burnett’s “Survivor” is preempted for basketball on CBS.

CBS ran second Tuesday, led by dramas “NCIS” (3.7/9 in 18-49, 16.16m) and “The Unit” (3.4/8, 12.87m), while NBC led the 10 p.m. hour with “Law & Order: SVU” (4.2/11, 11.73m).

ABC News spec “To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports” averaged 10.1 million viewers at 10, the net’s largest aud in the hour in about three months.

For the February sweep, with one night to be counted, CBS still led with a 5.1 rating/13 share in adults 18-49, followed by Fox (5.0/13), ABC (3.9/10) and NBC (3.0/8). Fox will move ahead on the sweep’s final night.

CBS, which benefited from airing the Super Bowl during the sweep, will finish on top in adults 25-54 in February for the first time since 1998. Eye will also prevail in total viewers — its 12th such victory in the last 14 major sweep periods.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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