Fox's 'Idol' low, still dominates Thursday

While Fox dominated Thursday primetime despite a season low for “American Idol,” college basketball rang up strong numbers for the initial March Madness spread across four networks. Initial numbers show CBS, TNT, TBS and TruTV combining for the best opening-Thursday ratings in 20 years.

According to metered-market overnight Nielsen estimates, the day’s men’s college basketball games on the four networks averaged a 5.7 household rating/13 share — up 24% from last year’s 4.6/11 when CBS went alone and the best since 1991, when the tournament expanded to four telecast windows for the entire day. Numbers for the individual games and networks will be released later Friday, with CBS expected to come in well below last year’s averages since it is now just one of four networks carrying the action.

In preliminary affiliate-based estimates for Thursday primetime, CBS averaged a 1.6 rating/5 share in adults 18-49 and 4.8 million viewers overall during primetime — down more than 50% from the same night a year ago. These numbers figure to come up some in the nationals and make CBS the No. 2 broadcaster on the night.

Elsewhere in primetime, Fox dominated both at 8 p.m. with “American Idol” (5.6 rating/18 share in adults 18-49, 19.0 million viewers overall) and at 9 p.m. with “Bones” (3.4/10 in 18-49, 11.9 million viewers overall). While the former, in its first results show during Daylight Savings Time, was down about 15% week to week, the latter was up slightly without crime drama competition from CBS vet “CSI.”

ABC ran second in demos in Thursday’s opening hour with “Wipeout” (2.0/7 in 18-49, 7.1 million viewers overall), which hit a six-week high in total viewers, as well at 9 p.m. with a special original episode of “Private Practice” (1.9/6 in 18-49, 6.1 million viewers overall) airing in the “Grey’s Anatomy” timeslot; the “Grey’s” spinoff matched a firstrun low but certainly fared better than a “Grey’s” repeat would have. And at 10, a special repeat of Wednesday medical drama “Off the Map” did a 1.1/3 in 18-49 and 4.1 million viewers overall.

At NBC, an original episode of “Community” ran third at 8 o’clock (1.7/6 in 18-49, 4.2 million viewers overall), with the net then dipping as usual with new half-hour “Perfect Couples” (1.2/4 in 18-49, 2.9 million viewers overall). A repeat “Office” (1.5/5 in 18-49, 3.7 million viewers overall) was followed by original episodes of “Parks and Recreation” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 4.1 million viewers overall), “30 Rock” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 4.2 million viewers overall) and “Outsourced” (1.4/4 in 18-49, 3.6 million viewers overall). Most of the net’s comedies hit season lows in 18-49, though “Community” (without competition from CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory”) and “Outsourced” drew their largest overall audiences since Feb. 3.

Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: Fox, 4.5/14; ABC, 1.7/5; CBS and Univision, 1.6/5; NBC, 1.5/5; CW, 0.5/2.

In total viewers: Fox, 15.5 million; ABC, 5.8 million; CBS, 4.8 million; Univision, 4.2 million; NBC, 3.8 million; CW, 1.4 million.

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