Fox's hit show draws 30.3 million viewers

Fox’s “American Idol” notched more huge numbers on Wednesday, building slightly in some demos vs. its Tuesday premiere and drawing its best performance relative to opening night in five years.

At least part of the potent perf can be chalked up to uninspired offerings from the competish: Auds aren’t torn by as many top-tier options on Wednesdays as they face on Tuesdays.

According to national estimates from Nielsen, Wednesday’s two-hour auditions episode of “American Idol” averaged an 11.8 rating/30 share and drew 30.32 million viewers overall. From 8 to 10 p.m., it beat its combined competition on ABC, CBS, NBC and CW by a whopping 15 shares in 18-49 — up from 3 shares on Tuesday.

“Idol” was down just 6% in adults 18-49 vs. its opening Wednesday of last season, one day after its opening night was off by 15% vs. 2008. It’s the first time in five years that “Idol’s” Wednesday premiere has increased over its Tuesday debut in adults 18-49 (11.8 vs. 11.7), while the show was virtually flat in total viewers (30.3 million vs. 30.4 million).

In another good sign, Wednesday saw a 10% increase over Tuesday among adults 18-34 (10.8 vs. 9.8), coming in just 2% below its opening Wednesday of a year ago.

Wednesday’s “Idol” now stands as the highest-rated primetime telecast of the season on any net among both adults 18-49 and 18-34 — at least until Sunday’s AFC Championship game on CBS.

Mike Darnell, Fox’s prexy of alternative programming, said he was most pleased to see the adults 18-34 numbers — which fell off noticeably in Tuesday’s premiere — hold steady in night two. “That younger audience is the most fickle, so it’s great to see that come back,” he said.

“Clearly, people like the changes we made,” Darnell said. “Word of mouth took over on Tuesday night. A lot of our little changes are making a big impact, like adding a fourth judge and balancing out the aspirational vs. crazy auditions.”

Darnell said he’s optimistic that “Idol’s” continued tweaks throughout the season will pay off in the ratings.

“We never want to act apathetic; the audience smells apathy,” he said. “It’s incumbent on us every few years to make changes.”

As for the Tuesday night dips, the exec partly blamed “Idol’s” early start this year. The show might have launched a week later, but Fox moved it up this year due to other scheduling issues, including the presidential inauguration.

It certainly helped Fox that Wednesday is not one of the stronger nights at its broadcast competition, with ABC serving up small numbers for three hours of “Lost” repeats (1.7/4 in 18-49, 4.50m) and NBC faring even worse with rookie drama “Knight Rider” (1.6/4, 5.38m) and a repeat of “Law & Order: SVU” (1.2/3, 4.46m).

CBS fared better than the others, placing second at 8 o’clock with “Old Christine” (1.9/5 in 18-49, 7.18m) and “Gary Unmarried” (2.1/5, 6.96m). The laffers, like the Eye’s dramas on Tuesday, retained more than 90% of their audience despite facing “Idol.”

“Criminal Minds” was the clear runner-up at 9 o’clock (3.2/8 in 18-49, 13.78m), and the net rolled at 10, too, with “CSI: NY” (3.2/8, 12.67m).

At CW, 8 o’clock nonscripted series “13: Fear Is Real” (0.6/2 in 18-49, 1.44m) lost more than one-third of its premiere-week audience.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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