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Nothing comes close to ‘Idol’

Finale averaged a 36.4 mil for its two hours

Fox put an exclamation point on a winning season and a dominant May sweep with a socko showing Wednesday for television’s No. 1 program, “American Idol.”

The coronation of 29-year-old Taylor Hicks from Birmingham, Ala. (spurred by his “soul patrol” fans), averaged an Oscar-like crowd of 36.4 million for its two hours — the largest audience to date for the final night of “Idol.”

The only other program on anybody’s radar Wednesday night, the second-season finale of ABC’s “Lost,” held up well with nearly 20 million viewers at its peak, down slightly year-to-year.

According to national estimates from Nielsen, the two-hour “American Idol” finale averaged a 14.4 rating/35 share in adults 18-49 and 36.38 million viewers overall from 8 to 10 p.m. — peaking in the final 30 minutes with a huge 17.3/38 in the demo and 43.6 million viewers.

Tune-in is the largest yet for the final night of “American Idol,” well above the 34.2 million who watched in 2003 (the previous high) and a 20% jump year to year (from 30.3 million). Among reality finales, it’s on par with season two of CBS’ “Survivor” (although that did a better demo score) and behind just that skein’s first season (51.7 million in 2000).

For the season, only the Super Bowl (90.8 million), the Academy Awards (38.9 million) and the post-Super Bowl episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” (37.8 million) — all on ABC — have drawn a larger overall aud.

And in the key 18-49 demo, the “Idol” finale topped the Oscars (14.1 rating to 13.9). “Idol” wrapped the season as TV’s No. 1 program in every key category.

Wednesday’s finale notched a 40 share in women 18-49, a 41 in women 18-34 and even a 26 share in male teens, its “weakest” demo.

“This is a younger, hipper show than the Oscars, and more relevant, I think,” said Fox exec VP of alternative programming Mike Darnell. “It’s certainly more populist.”

The “Idol” finale capped the 2005-06 season, which Fox won as projected in adults 18-49 (Daily Variety, May 24) with a 4.1 rating to a 4.0 for ABC, a 3.8 for CBS and a 3.3 for NBC.

Fox also routed its rivals in the May sweep, winning the crown in 18-49 for the second straight season and the third time in four years. Its 4.8 marks a 7% gain over 2005 and towers over the ratings for CBS (3.7, down 10%), ABC (3.5/10, down 5%) and NBC (3.1/9, down 3%).

As it did during the entire season, Spanish-language Univision beat UPN and the WB to place fifth among the broadcasters during May (1.5/4 in 18-49 to a 1.1/3 for the soon-to-merge weblets).

Fox dominated among the 18-34 crowd (4.6/15 to a 3.0/9 for second-place ABC) and also beat CBS in adults 25-54 (5.1/13 to 4.7/12). The Eye still topped Fox in total viewers (12.5 million to 11.6m).

In addition to year-to-year sweep gains for “Idol,” other Fox skeins like “House” and “24” were on the rise, and shows including the new “Unanimous” and “Prison Break” also shined.

Tuesday’s season finale of “House” established series highs (10.2/25 in 18-49, 25.47m), edging out ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” (both 9.9 rating) as the highest-rated scripted finale in 18-49.

Elsewhere Wednesday, ABC’s “Lost” averaged a solid 7.6 rating/18 share in 18-49 and 17.84 million viewers overall from 9 to 11. The 18-49 number is down 3% from last year’s rookie-season finale (7.8/19).

Show jumped up in the 10 o’clock hour after “Idol” ended, peaking with an 8.3/21 in 18-49 and 19.6 million viewers overall in the closing 30 minutes.

The next highest-rated program Wednesday night was CBS drama “CSI: NY,” which was in repeat (2.7/7 in 18-49, 8.35m).

The only cable program in primetime to pull better than a 2 share in 18-49 was the NBA playoff game between Phoenix and Dallas on TNT (1.7/4 in 18-49, 4.44m).

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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