First off, let’s be honest. There’s no way to say that "American Idol" isn’t anything but the most lethal weapon to come along since the four-network era began 20 years ago. Anything that draws 25 million-30 million viewers routinely and doesn’t involved a live execution can’t be wrong. But…last night’s numbers also indicate a bit of vulnerability in the "Idol" armada.
According to prelim Nielsen’s, "Idol" finished out its 8 p.m.-10:09 p.m. run with 29.4 million viewers and 11.0 rating/30 share in adults 18-49. Last night’s closer peaked in the final half-hour, natch, with 34.9 million viewers and 13.3/rating/32 share in adults 18-49.
The comparisons to the ’06 "Idol" wrap are telling. The Taylor Hicks coronation drew an average of 36.3 million viewers and 14.2 rating in adults 18-49. That one ran to 10:03 p.m., peaking at an astounding 42 million viewers and 17.3 rating/38 share in adults 18-49.
What does it all mean? "Idol," like the everyday folks who make or break the show for the millions who love watching it, is mortal. Although there’s plenty of post-finale carping about how unnecessarily draaaaaaawn out last night’s finale was, Fox still deserves props for keeping its addiction in check and only offering one edition of "Idol" per season, so as not to wear the show out too fast. So congrats to Jordin, and all of those on the Pico Boulevard lot for another year of scheduling restraint.
As for the other big finale last night, it boggles this mind why ABC’s "Lost" is losing some of its steam. The stats for last night’s finale: 13.7 million viewers, 5.8/15 share in adults 18-49, compared to ’06’s 17.8 million faithful and 7.6 rating/18 share in the 18-49 demo.
No network, not even "Idol"-enhanced Fox, would sniff at those numbers. Still, why the fall off? The show’s better than ever, more mysterious than ever, more beautifully shot than ever. "Lost’s" DP’s deserve combat pay. You think those run-through-the-jungle scenes shoot themselves? Those guys must be on their bellies half the time, getting as muddy as the castaways. And the ensemble has never been as strong thanks to the additions of Michael Emerson (mean ol’ Ben), Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet) and the increased presence of Nestor Carbonell (creepy Richard). Josh Holloway (Sawyer) and Evangeline Lilly (Kate) have also had great seasons that ought to make them Emmy bait when the noms are out in July.
But there’s real truth to the growing sentiment that shows like "Lost" are facing an unfair discount of their audience base if viewership stats are based on the Nielsen overnights. Thanks to the brave souls at Disney, "Lost" has from the start been on the leading edge of the new world in which viewers are digitally empowered to watch shows whenever they want, on a variety of platforms. As anyone who’s been reading this blog the past few weeks knows, I couldn’t be a bigger fan of "Lost," but real life and a punishing deadline prevented me from tuning in to the two-hour finale last night. I’ve got an unbreakable date with ABC.com tonight, and plans for a leisurely stroll through the Season Three DVD set as soon as it’s available.
If that isn’t incontrovertible evidence (from this viewer’s perspective) that the whole notion of TV ratings needs a big, massive re-write, then I don’t know what is — maybe the solution is in a hatch somewhere near the Others’ old compound, or maybe it’s in the mysterious Nielsen compound in Florida, where much of the company’s round-the-clock number-crunching is done.
But for all the frustration re the numbers, there’s no shot whatsoever that this show won’t get anything but the royal treatment from ABC during the next three seasons, as was thoughtfully laid out a few weeks ago by ABC, ABC Studios and exec producer/good shepherds Damon Lindelof and Cartlon Cuse. So I’m not going to lose sleep over the weaker finale numbers. Based on the closing moments of last week’s penultimate "Lost" adventure, I’m focused on rooting for Charlie to get back to his No. 1, Claire. (They don’t mention it much on the show but, in fact, Claire’s last name is…Littleton.)