'Connor,' 'Idol' return has Fox firing on all cylinders

NBC's gala-less Globes sinks fast

With a monster premiere for "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" behind it and the return of "American Idol" coming tonight, Fox is sitting in the driver's seat in this vastly different TV season.

After getting a 37.3 million-viewer boost for the last hour of the New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys NFC playoff game Sunday night, the network scored the highest premiere in viewership and adults 18-49 in at least two years for the new "Connor" series. At least 18.3 million viewers tuned in to see it, with a sky-high 7.6 rating/18 share in the demo, according to preliminary estimates by Nielsen Media Research.

Meanwhile, NBC's nonexclusive, watered-down Golden Globes telecast averaged 5.8 million viewers — slightly less than the 6 million who tuned in to see the People's Choice Awards on CBS last week. It was a far cry from last year's 20 million viewers for the full ceremony, which represented NBC's best Globes numbers since 2004.

NBC came in fourth place by far in the 9 p.m. hour on Sunday with its own telecast of the winners; E!, TV Guide Channel and CNN showed the actual news conference. Ratings for those telecasts were not released by press time.

NBC's two-hour Globe-themed "Dateline" did even worse, averaging 4.4 million viewers and a 1.1/4. It also dragged down NBC's "American Gladiators" (4.7 million, 1.9/5).

Speaking about "Connor's" debut, Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori said, "It's a great number and clearly took advantage of the lead-in to become the No. 1 premiere of a series this season." The show also benefited from a high-profile marketing campaign, which Liguori hoped would help keep up the momentum in the second half of the show's premiere Monday night.

Tonight marks the two-hour premiere of the seventh season of "American Idol," which averaged 30.7 million viewers during the May 23 season finale. "Idol" has a pair of two-hour episodes this week, and Liguori said it's difficult to predict how the show will open.

Although much has been made of last season, when the talent did not appear as strong as in past years, Liguori said that the viewership was only off slightly coming off of a year that saw a 10% increase.

In light of the writers strike, Liguori believes that this year's performance will be telling for broadcast TV and the show itself.

"What gives me pause is, are viewers in the habit and are the broadcast HUTs going to be there so that the seas rise and that 'Idol' reaches its natural level of buoyancy?" Liguori asked. "We're going to find out."

He added, "If any show is going to bring the HUTs back, it's likely 'American Idol.' "

On Friday night, USA Network's "Monk" and "Psych" returned to solid numbers. The shows — which had what USA calls their "winter-season premieres" — were up from the debuts of their second-half season premieres in January 2007.

"Monk," which resumed its sixth season at 9 p.m., averaged 5.7 million total viewers, a 9% increase from a year ago, followed at 10 p.m. by "Psych," which continued its sophomore season with 4.7 million total viewers, up 24%.

In the key adult demos, "Monk" posted its best 25-54 numbers (2.5 million) since the fifth-season finale in August 2006 and its best 18-49 viewership (2.1 million) in two years. "Psych" had its best performance in both 25-54 (2.4 million) and 18-49 (2.3 million) since the July 2006 series premiere.

Kimberly Nordyke in Los Angeles contributed to this report.