Fox dominates with 'Idol' despite ratings slip

The first Democratic presidential debate in a while — and the last before next week’s key Pennsylvania primary — scored strong numbers for ABC on Wednesday. It drew the most viewers of any program in the night’s opening hour before getting overwhelmed by Fox’s “American Idol” in its concluding hour.

According to nationals from Nielsen, the ABC News debate moderated by Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos averaged a solid 2.7 rating/7 share in adults 18-49 and 10.63 million viewers overall from 8 to 10 p.m. — airing live in most of the country and on tape-delay in the West. This reps a hearty 42% improvement in the demo and was more than double the overall total audience of what ABC aired on the same night a week ago (a repeat of “Wife Swap” and a firstrun “Supernanny.”)

Wednesday’s debate also becomes the most watched of this presidential debate, topping the 9.4 million that tuned in on average for the Democratic debate on ABC in early January and the 8.3 million who watched the Dems go at it in late January on CNN.

In host city Philadelphia, Wednesday’s debate was watched in more homes (roughly 532,000) than “American Idol” (365,000). ABC also drew more overall viewers than Fox in Orlando, San Antonio and Albuquerque, according to Nielsen’s metered-market overnights.

Fox dominated the night’s middle hour with “American Idol” (8.8/22 in 18-49, 23.34 million viewers overall), although the megahit’s downtrend continues: It was off about 20% in the demo vs. the same night a year ago while drawing its smallest regular Wednesday audience in two years. Earlier in the night, the net didn’t do a whole lot with the timeslot debuts of young comedies “Til Death” (2.0/6 in 18-49, 5.89 million viewers overall) and “Back to You” (2.5/7 in 18-49, 7.11 million viewers overall).

CBS had a solid night, with “Big Brother” (2.3/7 in 18-49, 6.09 million viewers overall), “Criminal Minds” (3.5/9 in 18-49, 12.98 million viewers overall) and “CSI: NY” (3.9/10 in 18-49, 13.43 million viewers overall) all up week-to-week. “Minds” ran second in most categories to “Idol” at 9, and “CSI: NY” was the easy winner at 10, topping the combined deliveries of NBC’s repeat “Law & Order” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 6.17 million viewers overall) and an original episode of ABC’s “Men in Trees” (1.5/4 in 18-49, 5.70 million viewers overall).

NBC was on the high side in the 8 o’clock hour with “Deal or No Deal” (2.6/8 in 18-49, 9.74 million viewers overall) but didn’t do much the rest of the way. And CW strutted its stuff kicking off the night with “America’s Next Top Model” (1.9/6 in 18-49, 3.85 million viewers overall), winning the hour in adults 18-34 (2.3/7).

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