'Idol' leads the way for winning week

Fox posted another dominant primetime ratings victory in a week when the broadcast nets significantly underperformed vs. a year ago.

News of a settlement in the three-month-old writers strike — and the resumption of production on scripted programming — will no doubt boost the nets’ fortunes in spring, but they’re going to have to live with some nasty declines in the meantime. CBS and ABC are the broadcast nets showing the biggest falloffs during February, but both can look forward to an influx of new programming in coming weeks.

According to Nielsen estimates that compare live viewing plus same-day DVR playback to the same frame a year ago, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW were down a combined 22% in adults 18-49 rating (13.7 rating vs. 17.6), while their share of the primetime aud tumbled from 45 to 34.

In overall audience, the five nets shrunk from 48.2 million to 40.1 million, a decline of 17%.

Fox, led by nonscripted megahit “American Idol,” held up the best, down just 4% in 18-49, while CBS tumbled by 38%, ABC by 26% and NBC by 17%. From a smaller base, CW slid by 36%, while Univision dropped by 11% and MyNetwork, which airs no firstrun scripted programming, doubled its tiny rating (to 0.4 from 0.2).

Ad-supported basic cable, meanwhile, saw its overall ratings rise 14%, although its top primetime programs still didn’t come close to the highest-rated on broadcast. The top cable show of the week in 18-49, USA’s wrestling series “WWE Raw,” ranked 49th among all primetime shows.

Overall averages for the Feb. 4-10 sesh saw Fox well ahead, with a 4.7 rating/12 share in adults 18-49, followed by ABC and CBS (both 2.8/7) and NBC (2.5/6). Fox also led in other categories including 25-54 (5.2/13), 12-34 (4.1/12) and total viewers (12.35 million).

For Fox, its fifth consecutive victory in adults 18-49 has helped it take a full ratings-point lead over ABC and NBC for the season in the demo (4.2 to 3.2) — the largest advantage at this point of this season by any net in 10 years. It also holds comfortable leads in demos ranging from adults 25-54 (4.5 rating to a 4.0 for second-place CBS) to persons 12-34 (3.5 to 2.3 for runner-up NBC).

And Fox is now neck and neck with CBS for the season lead in total viewers, having taken the lead for the first time on Wednesday thanks to “American Idol” and “Moment of Truth” before seeing the Grammys put CBS narrowly back on top to end the week (11.12 million to 11.09 million).

Leading the way for Fox were hourlong segs of “American Idol” on Tuesday (11.2/28 in 18-49, 27.91 million viewers overall) and Wednesday (10.5/27, 26.28m) — easily the top two shows of the week. And behind them in the rankings were the shows following “Idol”: a new episode of drama “House” on Tuesday (9.0/21, 23.16m) and new reality show “Moment of Truth” on Wednesday (7.1/17, 16.62m).

Though it’s cooled off some since its big debut, “Truth” stands as the season’s top-rated new program.

Also for Fox, NASCAR’s “Budweiser Shootout” dominated Saturday (3.0/9 in 18-49, 8.54m), while Monday drama “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” continues to be a solid but not spectacular performer (3.5/8, 8.82m).

For CBS, “The 50th Annual Grammy Awards” (6.5/16 in 18-49, 17.17m) gave the net its best Sunday in a year, although this repped the kudocast’s lowest demo score and third smallest overall audience ever.

Net also got a boost from the Thursday premiere of “Survivor: Micronesia” on (4.8/13, 14.02m), which logged the lowest debut scores for the show to date, even as it continues to dominate its timeslot competish.

On the comedy side, “Welcome to the Captain” didn’t do a whole lot in its bow Monday (2.6/7 in 18-49, 7.91m), but that did put it in line with its repeat lead-in from “How I Met Your Mother.” And returnee “The New Adventures of Old Christine” (3.2/8, 9.43m) similarly did OK behind its lead-in, “Two and a Half Men” (3.8/9, 12.31m), and improved a bit in its second airing, on Monday of the current week (3.4/8, 9.89m).

ABC was paced by a two-hour “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on Sunday (5.5/12, 15.77m), which held up well opposite the Grammys, and by Monday’s special 90-minute edition of “20/20″ (4.3/11, 12.66m), which looked at new developments in the Natalee Holloway case.

And while the net finished in seventh place from 8 to 10 on Friday with repeats of “Grey’s Anatomy” (1.0/3, 3.97m) and “Desperate Housewives” (1.0/3, 3.82m), it rebounded the next night with the preem of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2.4/7 in 18-49, 6.60m), which gave ABC its strongest nonsports Saturday in eight months.

NBC won Monday with “American Gladiators” (3.7/10 in 18-49, 9.04m) and “Deal or No Deal” (4.4/11, 13.16m), while its “Biggest Loser” was No. 2 Tuesday, behind Fox’s “Idol”/”House” combo.

And Thursday saw OK premiere Nielsens for “Lipstick Jungle” (2.9/8, 7.54m), which was beaten by fellow newbie drama “Eli Stone” on ABC (3.3/9, 8.83m).

Univision was led by Wednesday’s soccer match between Mexico and the U.S. (2.5/7 in 18-49, 5.10m), while CW was paced by “Smallville” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 4.01m).

USA edged out TBS for the week’s primetime cable lead in 18-49 (0.89 vs. 0.88). USA, led by “WWE Raw” (2.0/5 in 18-49, 5.10m) and “Psych” (1.3/4, 3.51m), also took the week in 25-54 and total viewers, while TBS — with strong young-adult perfs from comedies like “Family Guy” and “The Office” — prevailed in 18-34.

FX’s “Nip/Tuck” (1.8/5, 3.34m) was cable’s top entertainment program in 18-49, beating out the broadcast nets’ 10 p.m. coverage of Super Tuesday among young adults. Also strong was Bravo’s “Project Runway” on Wednesday (1.8/5, 3.63m).

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