The phenomenon that is “American Idol” wrapped before a huge audience Wednesday, giving Fox one of the highest-rated nights in its history.
In the final half-hour, when Ruben Studdard was declared the winner, roughly 40 million were glued to the action, according to Nielsen.
Night wrapped the May sweep, which saw Fox prevail in adults 18-49 with a 4.7/14 — its highest average for the month since 1998. It edged past NBC (4.4/12), giving the net its second consecutive sweeps victory in the demo (Daily Variety, May 22).
Closing out the month, “Idol’s” two-hour conclusion averaged a 14.9/36 in adults 18-49 and 34.23 million viewers overall — Fox’s best Wednesday averages and the second-best scores for any night of entertainment programming in the net’s history, behind only February’s finale of “Joe Millionaire” (17.6/36 in adults 18-49, 34.7 million viewers overall).
Both shows come from Mike Darnell’s alternative department at Fox. The exec VP’s division did yeoman’s work for the net this year, not only guaranteeing Fox two sweeps wins but also helping the net finish the year with a solid second place showing among adults 18-49.
Fox and the WB were the only networks to show year-to-year improvement during the four-week sweeps period. The Frog delivered its best-ever May in adults 18-34 (2.2/7).
Fox broke out the final night of “American Idol” into two separate hours, so the higher-rated 9 o’clock hour goes down in the books as its official “finale” (16.8/37 in adults 18-49, 38.06 million viewers overall).
Compared with the conclusions of other reality shows, Wednesday’s two hours of “Idol” tops every edition of “The Bachelor” franchise on ABC and the last four editions of CBS skein “Survivor.”
Wednesday’s “Idol” bested the two-hour finale of its first edition in September (10.7/30 in 18-49) by 39%.
The Murdoch net also dominated the month in adults 18-34 (5.0/16).
NBC, which had placed first in every May sweep since 1994, led this one until its final hours. It finished the month down the most of any net — 20% in adults 18-49 — due in part to the big boost it received last year from events related to its 75th anniversary.
Net was second on Wednesday, paced by the 300th episode of “Law & Order” (6.7/16 in A18-49, 19.02m). A second original seg of “Law” was runner-up to “Idol” at 9 (5.1/11 in A18-49), topping every score for “West Wing” in the hour since December.
ABC finished the month down a tick in 18-49 from a year ago. Net could have used some help from its movie department, as a year ago the six-hour mini “Dinotopia” pitched in with solid numbers.
The Alphabet improved upon the final Wednesday of May a year ago, led by reality skein “Extreme Makeover” at 10 (4.8/12 in A18-49, 10.75m) and the hourlong season finale of “My Wife and Kids” (second-place 4.0/10 in A18-49).
On CBS, “The Academy of Country Music Awards” (3.6/9 in A18-49, 12.08m) was down 14% year-to-year in the demo but still gave the net one of its best Wednesdays of the season.
The Eye, which was the most-watched net overall for the month (Daily Variety, May 21), felt the absence of “Amazing Race” from its sked, finishing down 8% year-to-year in 18-49.
The WB finished the month up 5% in adults 18-34 to a best-ever May average of 2.2/7.
“I’m really pleased,” WB Entertainment prexy Jordan Levin said. “The biggest surprise was that we were in growth mode in May, because last year we pushed very hard in May, and that’s when we started the growth that’s continued for a year now.”
Leading the way was the two-hour series finale of “Dawson’s Creek,” whose 6.6/18 in the demo was the best for a Frog skein. Tuesday’s “Smallville” also had another big month, peaking with a 5.1/13 with its season finale.
UPN was down 11% in the demo, in line with the net’s losses for the season. The series finale of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” provided a boost, but new drama “Platinum” failed to make much noise.