CBS, Fox high on ratings

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The cavalry came in for Fox and CBS last week in the form of "American Idol," "24" and the AFC Championship game, pushing both networks to nearly 52-week highs on key Nielsen ratings indices during the week ending Jan. 21.

Fox scored its highest-rated premiere in its 19-year history with Tuesday's triumphant two-hour return of "American Idol," which drew enough viewers (37.4 million) to fill a few dozen football stadiums and an eye-popping 15.8 rating/36 share in the adults 18-49 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research. The "Idol" spoils were almost as good the following night, with the second two-hour installment pulling in 36.9 million viewers and a 15.5/36. Fox also got the week off to a good start with Monday's concluding two-hour installment of the sixth-season opener of "24" (15.7 million, 5.9/14), which rivaled NBC's three-hour telecast of the Golden Globe Awards (20 million, 6.5/15).

For Fox, it all added up to the highest-rated week for any network in the adults 18-49 demo since February, when "Idol" was on a tear.

CBS, meanwhile, delivered the highest total-viewer tally of any network in nearly a year, since NBC was in Olympics mode in February, thanks to the turnout for Sunday's AFC Championship game (46.7 million, 17.6/39) that secured a Super Bowl berth for the Indianapolis Colts with its win over the New England Patriots.

All told, CBS averaged 16.6 million viewers for the week, followed by Fox (15.2 million), NBC (9.3 million), ABC (8.8 million) and the CW (2.9 million). In adults 18-49, Fox led with a 6.3/15, followed by CBS (5.5/14), ABC (3.1/8), NBC (3.0/8). CW delivered 1.3/3 in its target demo of adults 18-34.

CW's highlight of the week was Thursday's "Smallville" (5.3 million, 2.6/8 in adults 18-34), which hit its highest marks of the season.

NBC was in ho-hum territory for the most part, Golden Globe Awards aside, with repeats sprinkled throughout its schedule. Thursday 8-9 p.m. comedies "My Name Is Earl" (9.8 million, 4.2/12) and "The Office" (9.3 million, 4.6/11) were by far the peacock's highest-rated regular programs of the week in adults 18-49.

ABC's highlights as usual included Thursday's 8 p.m. anchor "Ugly Betty" (14.1 million, 4.5/12) and "Grey's Anatomy" (21.9 million, 8.7/20). Sunday stalwart "Desperate Housewives" (17.1 million, 6.7/13) felt the pinch of the stiff football competition on CBS. Football aside, CBS' best bragging point of the week was the mettle Tuesday 8 p.m. drama "NCIS" (16 million, 3.7/9) showed against the heat of "Idol." As CBS was quick to note, "NCIS" was virtually unbowed compared with its season average in viewers, retaining 98% of its pre-"Idol" audience and down only 10% in adults 18-49.
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