Fox reality stalwart drew 21.9 million in last year's premiere

Despite a judges table that now includes Nicki Manaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban, the 12th season of “American Idol” premiered to 17.8 viewers Wednesday night on Fox, down 19% from its 11th season premiere.

In the 18-49 demo, the two-hour “Idol” telecast recorded a 6 rating/16 share, according to early estimates from Nielsen. That’s down from the 7.4/19 it reached a year ago. In total viewers, “Idol” brought in 21.9 million for its 2012 premiere. For the 18-34 demo, “Idol” drew a 4.9/15.

Despite the lowered “Idol” ratings, Fox had no problems winning the night handily as “Idol” was the highest-rated entertainment program of the season. Closest to Fox was ABC, with a lineup of all originals.

Although it still is one of television’s top shows, at its height “American Idol” was an unstoppable force. The January 2007 premiere episode attracted 37.4 million viewers and 15.8/36.

“Idol” has slipped in recent seasons. The other musical competition shows, both on Fox (“The X-Factor”) and on rival networks (NBC’s “The Voice”), have been diluting the genre.

NBC has been feeling confident with “The Voice,” and made the bold move of airing in the fall last year after two midseason runs. The strategy paid off.

In that most recent run, “The Voice” grew as the season went along. It premiered on Sept. 10 to 12.2 million viewers and a 4.2/11 and ended on Dec. 18 with 14.1 million viewers and a 4.9.13.

“The X-Factor” also saw an increase in overall viewers as the season went along, but the demo fell, and, overall, it was down from season one to season two.

The Simon Cowell exec produced series opened this fall with 8.7 million viewers and finished with 9.6 million. The demo dropped from 3.4/10 to 3.1/9.

Second on Wednesday was ABC comedy powerhouse “Modern Family” (4.3/11, 11m). That was down from a 4.7 a week ago and 12 million viewers, as “Idol” likely drew away a small portion of the laffer’s audience.

As a matter fact, all the Alphabet’s offerings were marginally off, including comedies “The Middle” (2.3/7, 8.2m), “The Neighbors” (1.9/5, 6.1m) and “Suburgatory” (2.4/6, 6.3m). With “Idol” over at 10 o’clock, however, drama “Nashville” (2.2/6, 6.5m) saw a two-tenths increase in the rating and an additional 700,000 viewers.

That’s encouraging news to ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee, who said at last week’s Television Critics Assn. panel that while the 18-34 demos for “Nashville” were solid, he wanted to see the 18-49 numbers go up in the second half of the season.

Over at CBS, “Criminal Minds” (2.8/7, 12.5m) returned after being pre-empted last week with the “People’s Choice Awards.” That was followed by “CSI”(2.3/6, 11m), which was best at 10 p.m.

“Arrow” returned to the CW with its first original since Dec. 12 and was up from that night, drawing a 1.1/3, 3.1m in its 2013 debut. A new “Supernatural” followed with a 0.9/2, 2m.

CW, in fact, actually placed ahead of NBC. The Peacock opted for a lineup of repeats, with “Chicago Fire” (1.0/3, 3.4) faring best.

Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: Fox, 6.0/16; ABC, 2.5/7; CBS, 2.1/6; Univision, 1.3/4; CW, 1.0/3; NBC, 0.8/2.

In total viewers: Fox, 17.8 million, CBS, 10.6 million; ABC, 7.4 million; Univision, 3.9 million; NBC, 2.8 million; CW, 2.5 million.

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