Fox draws series' biggest audience since preem

Auds warmly welcomed Ellen DeGeneres to “American Idol” on Tuesday, but didn’t seem too nostalgic as Jay Leno ended his primetime show after just five months.

Also Tuesday, ABC’s “Lost” held up well in its second seg of the season and CBS saw good numbers for its rookie dramas, but Fox’s “Past Life” didn’t seem to grab viewers with its special post-“Idol” preview.

According to Nielsen’s same-night estimates, “American Idol” averaged a strong 10.1 rating/26 share in adults 18-49 and 27.89 million viewers overall during the 8 o’clock hour, rising 12% week to week and beating its combined ABC-CBS-NBC competition by 3 shares in 18-49. This reps the show’s third highest 18-49 score and second largest overall audience of the season.

DeGeneres, who’s filling the shoes of original judge Paula Abdul, debuted at the start of the show’s Hollywood round, which usually sees a ratings uptick. This year’s opening night of the round came in up a tick vs. last year.

Following “American Idol,” new drama “Past Life” averaged a mere 2.8 rating/7 share in adults 18-49 and 8.32 million viewers overall and finished fourth behind established hits on competing networks. Show will air regularly at 9 p.m. on Thursday, and get a special “Idol” lead-in on the night for a few weeks.

“The Jay Leno Show,” meanwhile, ended its inglorious run with a below-average score for a Tuesday episode (1.7/5 in 18-49, 5.64m), losing more than half of its lead-in from “The Biggest Loser” (3.5/9, 8.89m). Leno returns to “The Tonight Show” on March 1, following the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics.

At CBS on Tuesday, “NCIS” remained potent (4.1/11 in 18-49, 19.75m) opposite “Idol,” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” (4.1/10, 17.91m) impressively retained all of its progenitor’s demo lead-in for the first time — despite tougher drama competition than it has seen all season. And “The Good Wife” (3.1/9, 14.75m) won at 10 p.m. and set series highs in total viewers and adults 25-54 (4.5/11).

ABC’s “Lost” (5.0/12 in 18-49, 11.05m) won the 9 o’clock hour in demos and, though slipping 9% from its strong season premiere of last week, came in 14% above its second seg of last season (on a Wednesday).

It was followed by struggling rookie drama “The Forgotten” (2.0/6, 5.92m), which will get a few more shots behind “Lost” until “V” slides into the 10 o’clock slot.

In cable, USA’s “White Collar” had a good showing at 10 p.m. (1.3/4 in 18-49, 3.83m), beating “Forgotten” and “Leno” in some younger demos.

And Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club” continued its ascent (1.1/3, 2.28m), establishing series — and some network — records in the process. Among women 18-34, it was the No. 1 show on television in the 10 o’clock hour (2.7/8).

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