On the eve of the “Friends” series finale, a two-hour “Dateline” special featuring interviews with the retiring comedy’s six stars scored strong ratings, helping pull NBC into a virtual first-place Wednesday tie with “American Idol”-powered Fox, according to preliminary nationals from Nielsen.

From 9 to 11, “Dateline” easily led its time period with a 6.4 rating/17 share in adults 18-49 and 14.5 million viewers overall, NBC’s best results there since September. In the night’s opening hour, two “Friends” repeats averaged a second-place 3.5/11 in adults 18-49.

For Fox, “That ’70s Show” was the demo leader at 8 (4.4/15 in adults 18-49, 8.9 million viewers overall) and “American Idol” was an easy winner at 8:30 with its results-show edition (8.6/25 in adults 18-49, 20.6 million viewers overall). And the season finale of “The OC” (4.6/12 in adults 18-49, 10.8 million viewers overall) ran second in 18-49 and led the 9 o’clock hour in persons 12-34 (6.0/18).

ABC was paced by its unscripted combo of “The Bachelor” (4.5/12 in adults 18-49, 10.0 million viewers overall) and “Extreme Makeover” (4.4/12 in adults 18-49, 10.2 million viewers overall), CBS by a special 10 o’clock repeat of “CSI” (4.3/11 in adults 18-49, 12.9 million viewers overall).

Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: Fox, 5.6/16; 5.5/15; ABC, 3.8/10; CBS, 3.0/8; WB, 2.3/6; UPN, 1.1/3.

In total viewers: Fox, 12.8 million; NBC, 12.5 million; CBS, 10.5 million; ABC, 9.2 million; WB, 4.5 million; UPN, 2.6 million.