'American Idol,' 'Grade' combo helps

Auds didn’t exactly stick to the script on the final night of the February sweep, with Fox and CW racking up big numbers.

Combo of “American Idol” and “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” again put Fox well in front of its competitors, but CW also made some noise with best-yet premiere numbers for its No. 1 show, “America’s Next Top Model.”

Sweep overall, meanwhile, remains a misleading indicator of each net’s midseason strengths, as events like the Super Bowl and Academy Awards skew results.

There’s no doubting that Fox is the hottest net heading into the homestretch, though, as it used “American Idol” to nip Super Bowl net CBS for the month’s 18-49 title and easily led among people 12-34, while the Eye still had enough to prevail in both adults 25-54 and total viewers.

Looking at Wednesday’s action, “American Idol” (11.9 rating/30 share in adults 18-49, 29.78 million viewers overall) dominated as usual with another 90-minute performance edition, down slightly from its Tuesday scores.

And at 9:30, gameshow “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” (9.7/23 in 18-49, 23.37m) wasn’t quite as scintillating as its night-earlier premiere but retained an excellent 82% of its “Idol” lead-in among adults 18-49 to win its half-hour by 12 shares.

After the strong second-night results, Fox on Thursday picked up four additional hourlong episodes of “5th Grader,” set to air on Thursdays at 8 beginning March 29.

At CW, “America’s Next Top Model” (2.5/6 in 18-49, 5.36m) opened with the series’ best-ever premiere averages in adults 18-34 (3.5/10), women 18-34 (5.4/13), teens (3.8/11) and total viewers.

Show, which beat “Idol” head-to-head in some young female categories in New York and Los Angeles, lifted the first-year net to its highest-rated night to date; it ran second to “Idol” from 8 to 10 in adults 18-34.

CBS remained a distant second on the night with “Jericho” (2.3/6 in 18-49, 8.31m), “Criminal Minds” (3.9/9 in 18-49, 14.50m), and “CSI: NY” (4.4/11 in 18-49, 14.33m).

ABC ran fifth with comedies from 8 to 10 before moving to the demo lead at 10 with “Lost” (5.7/15, 12.78m). NBC wasn’t much of a factor with “Friday Night Lights” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 5.07m), “Deal or No Deal” (2.5/6 in 18-49, 9.21m) and “Medium” (2.5/6, 7.63m).

For the sweep, Fox led in adults 18-49 with a 5.2 rating/13 share, followed by CBS (5.0/13), ABC (3.9/10), NBC (2.9/8), Univision (1.7/4) and CW (1.4/3). (Year-to-year comparisons are particularly meaningless this February since last year featured the Winter Olympics on NBC.)

Fox led in people 12-34 over second-place CBS (4.5/13 to 3.4/10), while the Eye had it in 25-54 (6.1/14 to 5.5/13 for Fox) and total viewers (15.7 million to 12.9 million for Fox).

Fox, which finished on top among adults 18-34 for a fifth straight February, was led by “Idol,” of course, but also by record ratings for Tuesday drama “House.” Vet “24″ also remains a strong performer, while 8 o’clock dramas “Prison Break” and “Bones” look good in their soph seasons.

CBS, whose highlights for the month included the Super Bowl and the Grammy Awards, also saw good results for new comedy “Rules of Engagement.” Monday laffer seemed to energize the entire night, with “Two and a Half Men” and “CSI: Miami” also hitting season highs in the month.

ABC was led by “Grey’s Anatomy,” the month’s top scripted show, and was also pleased with its increased perf — thanks mostly to “Lost” — in the 10:30 half-hour leading into the weeknight local news. Monday tandem of “Wife Swap” and “Supernanny” also achieved season highs during the month.

NBC remained strong from 8 to 10 on Monday with “Deal or No Deal” and the season’s No. 1 new series, “Heroes,” while “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office” continue to shine on Thursday. Vets “Law & Order: SVU” and “ER” continue to lead their 10 o’clock slots but are clearly wobbling.

Univision rode hot telenovela “La Fea Mas Bella” (The Prettiest Ugly Girl) to a third-place finish among adults 18-34 during the 8 o’clock hour, while music awards show “Premio Lo Nuestro” averaged more than 6 million viewers.

And although “Gilmore Girls” and “Smallville” continue to do well, CW’s best news came from its unscripted franchises. In addition to the bow of “Top Model,” “Beauty and the Geek” posted its best finale numbers to date, and “Friday Night Smackdown” hit season highs, drawing 5.4 million viewers last week.

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