Fox feels ratings wobble amid 'Idol' warbles

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"American Idol" had its lowest-rated in-season premiere Tuesday.

The eighth-season debut of the massively popular singing competition lost about 10% of its audience this year and more (-15%) in the adult demo.

"Idol" was seen by 30.1 million viewers, with an 11.7 national rating and 28 share among adults 18-49. That's the lowest rating since the show's noncomparable series debut in summer 2002. Among total viewers, it's the lowest since a special Monday start in 2004 drew 30 million.

Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori said the network feels mixed about the numbers: "relieved," "optimistic" and yet "not satisfied."

Relieved because the expected "Idol" erosion wasn't worse. Not satisfied because even though "Idol" is a ratings behemoth, it's still incumbent upon the network to maintain the show's popularity. And optimistic because critic and fan reaction to Tuesday's episode was generally positive, and Liguori hopes "word-of-mouth" and this round's ongoing format tweaks will improve the show's typically predictable performance trajectory during the course of the season.

"We've pulled back on the number of audition weeks, (and new judge) Kara (DioGuardi) hit it out of the park; she felt very authentic," Liguori said. "I'm hoping that the ratings will not be the same as in years past, that the sag in the middle of the season won't be as severe."

Last year the "Idol" premiere was down by double digits but improved year-over-year as the season progressed.

Despite its overall drop, the "Idol" premiere widened the gap between itself and the second-highest-rated entertainment telecast this season: "Idol" was 57% higher than the "Grey's Anatomy" premiere, compared with 55% higher than the ABC soap last year.

CBS came in second place for the night, NBC third and ABC fourth. CBS dramas "NCIS" (18.6 million, 3.7/9) and "The Mentalist" (18.1 million, 3.8/9) held up well against "Idol."

NBC was hardest hit by the return of Fox's juggernaut. The second week of "The Biggest Loser" (8.9 million, 3.3/8) was down 27% from its bow but up 10% in the slot compared with last year.

The second week of ABC's "Homeland Security USA" (6 million, 1.8/5, down 22%) and "Scrubs" (4.5 million, 2.2/5, down 29%) also dropped.

Conversely, CBS' 10 p.m. drama "Without a Trace" made gains (12.4 million, 2.9/7). (partialdiff)
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