‘Idol’ hands Fox a win

Reality finale sweeps net past NBC in demo race

Fox isn’t just hounding the Peacock, it has plucked it.

On the towering strength of “American Idol” — and the halo effect it had on the net’s key scripted skeins — Fox has won its first-ever May sweep in the key demo of adults 18-49.

Net moved into a tie with NBC for the month after Tuesday’s results, which saw more huge “Idol” numbers and strong season-ending scores for drama “24,” and was then guaranteed an outright victory once “Idol” hit the air with its two-hour finale Wednesday night.

The conclusion of the megahit music talent show was expected to produce one of the highest-rated nights in Fox history.

Fox will finish the month up more than 25% year-to-year while the Peacock will be down about 20%, according to Nielsen.

Victory means the net has now won two consecutive sweeps months for the first time, having prevailed easily in February behind the two-headed monster of “American Idol” and “Joe Millionaire.”

Big year’s boom

Fox TV Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow said the net’s May-to-May growth was one of the strongest stories of the sweeps. It was a shaky third at this time a year ago, not too far ahead of ABC.

“Fox is the only major network up over last May,” Grushow said. “That growth wasn’t incremental, it was monumental.”

With one night to be counted in the sweep, Fox and NBC were tied in adults 18-49 with a 4.4 rating, followed by CBS (3.7), ABC (3.3), the WB (1.9) and UPN (1.5).

CBS led in total viewers with 12.9 million.

For the month, Fox finished first in adults 18-49 on three nights (Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday) and claimed seven of the top 20 programs: the two editions of “American Idol,” “Bernie Mac,” “That ’70s Show,” “Wanda at Large,” “24” and “The Simpsons.”

“That ’70s Show,” which preceded “Idol” on Wednesdays, delivered its highest 18-49 share ever during the month (20), while “Bernie Mac,” which followed “Idol,” was May’s No. 3 comedy in 18-49 — behind only “Friends” and “Will & Grace.”

“24” was up 45% year-to-year to become the No. 5 drama of the sweep in 18-49 (6.1/15).

NBC’s second-place finish for the month marks the first time in nine years that the net hasn’t claimed at least a share of the May sweep demo title. Three years it ago, it had enough in the tank to weather ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” juggernaut and earn a tie with the Alphabet.

NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker conceded defeat in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

“I want to congratulate Fox (on winning the month),” Zucker said. “They’ve used the ‘Idol’ franchise to great benefit, and you have got to give them credit for that.”

On Tuesday, “Idol” produced its best numbers on the night since January (11.2/31 in adults 18-49, 25.67 million viewers overall), teaming with “24” (6.4/16 in adults 18-49, 14.20m) as the drama thriller concluded its second season by drawing its largest overall audience to date.

‘Buffy’ finale finishes 3rd

UPN’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” didn’t see a significant hike with its series finale, placing third for its hour in adults 18-34 (2.7/8) — its best score since November nonetheless. The cult fave ended its six-year run with a second-place finish in some young male demos.

Following “Buffy,” net’s premiere of reality skein “America’s Next Top Model” averaged a solid 1.9/5 in adults 18-34 — the net’s second best showing in the 9 o’clock hour this season.

The WB was second in adults 18-34 on the night, with “Gilmore Girls” (3.4/10) and “Smallville” (5.1/13) both runners-up for their slots.

ABC ran second in 18-49, led by the highest rating since October for “NYPD Blue” (5.0/13 in A18-49, 12.46m) and a solid second-place demo finish for “According to Jim,” whose 9 o’clock seg defeated NBC’s season finale of “Frasier” (4.5/11 vs. 3.9/10); the Peacock vet was down more than 40% year-to-year. At 9:30, ABC’s second-place “Less Than Perfect” (3.8/9) similarly defeated NBC’s “Watching Ellie” (3.1/8).

CBS did better than usual from 9 to 11 with the conclusion of mini “Hitler: The Rise of Evil” (3.7/9 in A18-49).

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