'American Idol' premiere ratings up

Ninth-season debut rises in key adult demos over last year

"American Idol" is still primetime's 800-pound gorilla. About 30 million viewers tuned in Tuesday night for the kickoff of the reality series' ninth season, its final go-round with judge Simon Cowell. In the adults 18-49 demographic, the two-hour "Idol" drew an 11.8 rating, up 1% from last year's premiere and halting a two-year decline.

"This is an amazing achievement," Fox president of alternative Mike Darnell said. "To be in its ninth season, and to have taken a lot of punches over the last couple years, we are thrilled to come back this strong."

Fox noted that "Idol" grew its domination over the combined performance of competitors Tuesday and was up 9% in adults 18-34. The latter is crucial for the network because the "Idol" audience has grown older, climbing from a first-season median age of 32 to 44 last year.

Tuesday's episode featured guest judge Victoria Beckham, who clashed with Cowell and drew negative remarks from critics.

"Guest judges do a yeoman's job," Darnell said. "It's tough to walk in and be the new Kara (DioGuardi). I think she did great."

The premiere followed Fox's record fourth quarter in the ratings, credited in part to such musical entries as the freshman hit "Glee" and a fall edition of "So You Think You Can Dance," which gave the network a suitable platform from which to promote "Idol's" return. It also came on the heels of Monday's announcement of Cowell's pending departure from the show, which some expected to give "Idol" an even-greater ratings boost.

Still another factor was the absence of Paula Abdul, whose exit as a judge last year prompted a flurry of speculation that "Idol's" ratings would be harmed. The coming weeks should provide more clarity as viewers "audition" guest judges, followed by Ellen DeGeneres joining the panel on a permanent basis next month.

Against "Idol," competitors were humbled. The 150th episode of CBS' "NCIS" (20.9 million, 4.3) proved strongest, followed by that network's "NCIS: Los Angeles" (15.6 million, 3.0) and "The Good Wife" (13.9 million, 3.0). With "Idol" ending at 10 p.m., "Wife" matched its lead-in for first time.

NBC's "The Biggest Loser" (8.1 million, 3.2) was down 30% going head-to-head with the king of reality shows. A lame-duck "Jay Leno Show" (1.8) followed.

ABC did terribly with two new episodes of "Better Off Ted" (2.2 million, 0.8; 2.5 million, 1.0) flanking an original of "Scrubs" (2.7 million, 1.2). The network's "The Forgotten" (4.4 million, 1.2) struggled at 10 p.m.

In late-night, Conan O'Brien, embroiled in a dispute with NBC over plans to move "The Tonight Show" to 12:05 a.m., saw a 40% night-to-night jump in the 18-49 demo (1.7 in the top markets), dominating CBS' "Late Night With David Letterman." But "Late Show" handily won in households (3.8 million vs. 2.8 million).

Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report.
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