UPDATE: According to Fox, rush nationals from Nielsen show that “Empire” rose to a 3.8 in adults 18-49, meaning it ties with ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder” as the season’s top new show in the demo. In total viewers, it rose to 9.9 million.

American Idol” also edged up, to a 3.2 in adults 18-49 and 11.2 million viewers overall.


Fox’s high-wattage music industry drama “Empire” hit some ratings high notes in its premiere Wednesday, building on its “American Idol” lead-in, dominating its time period and ruling as the night’s No. 1 show in key demos. In fact, the rookie drew nearly as many young adults as ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder” — the season’s biggest new hit — for its premiere in September.

“Idol,” meanwhile, was down again as expected kicking off its 14th season — losing about a third of its young-adult audience from a year ago when it aired a two-hour episode.

Looking at the preliminary Nielsen estimates, “Empire” averaged a 3.7 rating/10 share in adults 18-49 and 9.8 million viewers overall from 9 to 10 p.m., besting the strong bow of the net’s “Gotham” in September (3.1/9 in 18-49, 8.3 million viewers overall) and nearly triple the “Red Band Society” premiere in the same Wednesday-at-9 timeslot on Fox in the fall (1.3). This is Fox’s biggest series launch in the three years since “Touch” in January 2012, which also aired behind (a much higher-rated) “American Idol.”

“Empire” cannot be expected to stay at this lofty level, in part due to what figures to be a dwindling “American Idol” audience as well as more drama competition in its time period starting next week when CBS heavyweight “Criminal Minds” returns. But at this big of a starting point, the Fox drama could easily lose a sizable chunk of its audience and still be considered a hit.

The strong “Empire” premiere means that three of the top four launches of the season in adults 18-49 — “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Empire” and “Black-ish” — are shows fronted by African-Americans. “Empire” is just a tick below the demo score of ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder” (3.8), which went on to remain hot for the Alphabet.

In Wednesday’s rare head-to-head showdown of two broadcast series about black families, “Empire” easily beat “Black-ish” (3.7 to 2.1 in 18-49 and 9.7 million to 6.3 million in total viewers).

The Fox newbie drew the same 3.7 demo rating with each half-hour, suggesting audiences liked what they saw. Its adult 18-49 audience was roughly 62% female.

“Empire,” which hails from Imagine Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television, tells the story of the terminally ill head of a music empire whose three sons and ex-wife all battle for his throne. Its strong auspices include creator Lee Daniels, co-creator/writer Danny Strong, main stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson and music director/songwriter Timbaland.

“American Idol” kicked off the night for Fox (3.1/9 in 18-49, 10.9 million viewers overall), down 34% from the 4.7 demo rating for its two-hour premiere of last year and off about 25% from its first hour a year ago. However, it was up nearly 20% from its most recent season finale in May (2.6).

“Idol” was still the night’s No. 1 show in total viewers (ahead of “Empire”), an indication that its audience continues to skew older.

Fox is scaling back its reliance on “American Idol” this season, trimming the show’s number of hours by about 25%. The music competition has seen some steep ratings declines in recent years, but it’s also still potent enough to provide a new show a good lead-in; in addition to “Empire” on Wednesday, “Idol” will also lead in to new Rainn Wilson-fronted drama “Backstrom” on Thursdays starting later this month.

ABC was strong opening the night, as “The Middle” (2.3/7 in 18-49, 8.5 million viewers overall) and “Goldbergs” (2.5/7 in 18-49, 7.8 million viewers overall) hit season highs despite facing “American Idol”; this was the second highest-rated episode of the 33 “Goldbergs” episodes to date (behind only its fall 2013 series premiere behind “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD”). And though “Black-ish” was on the low side and clearly impacted by the premiere of “Empire,” the ABC comedy still out-performed last year’s January average for “Super Fun Night” in the same 9:30 p.m. timeslot by 31% (2.1 vs. 1.6).

At CBS, the timeslot premiere of “The Mentalist” (1.3/4 in 18-49, 9.0 million viewers overall) tied in 18-49 with NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura” (1.3/4 in 18-49, 6.8 million viewers overall), though both were well behind “American Idol” and the ABC comedies.  “Mentalist” was a tick below its final Sunday appearance while “Laura” was up a tick from its prior original and remains one of the season’s most consistent frosh performers.

“Mentalist” was followed by the “People’s Choice Awards” telecast (1.8/5 in 18-49, 8.6 million viewers overall), which was down a steep 33% vs. last year (2.4).

At NBC, “Law & Order: SVU” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 7.8 million viewers overall) and “Chicago PD” (1.6/5 in 18-49, 7.4 million viewers overall) joined “Mysteries of Laura” in outperforming their most recent originals in December. “Chicago PD” benefited from not facing any other drama in its 10 p.m. hour, finishing a bit behind “People’s Choice” on CBS (1.8) and doubling up ABC’s encore telecast of the “Galavant” premiere (0.8/3 in 18-49, 3.0 million viewers overall).