Fox gets A+ for '5th Grader' bow

Airing after 'Idol,' it's the best series debut since '98

The placement of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" next to Tuesday's "American Idol" got top marks for Fox and delivered the highest series premiere on any network in viewership in nearly nine years.

"5th Grader" averaged 26.5 million viewers and an 11.2 rating/26 share in the adults 18-49 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That was in addition to the 90-minute "Idol" that averaged 30.6 million viewers and a 12.2/30 in the demo.

Things were looking good for Fox all around, with "Idol" up 1% from the same night last year and up 3% compared with the previous Tuesday, when there were 12 male contestants, not the 10 like Tuesday night. But the "5th Grader" premiere was the surprise, retaining 93% of its demo lead-in and 88% of the "Idol" viewership.

Mike Darnell, Fox's executive vp alternative programming and specials, said he was "shocked" at how well "5th Grader" did given that the network has done limited promotion for the show, and only during the past two weeks. The project came together at lightning speed during the past two months after executive producers Mark Burnett, Barry Poznick and John Stevens brought the original concept to Fox shortly before the December holidays, Darnell said.

"It was a cute and clever concept that is obviously a perfect fit with 'Idol,'" Darnell said. Hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, "5th Grader" asks basic knowledge questions of adults, who have the opportunity to get pointers from actual fifth-graders.

It was also Fox's highest-rated series premiere in viewership and the best in the adults 18-49 demo since "The George Carlin Show" (11.3/24) on Jan. 16, 1994. It was best series premiere in viewers since Sept. 24, 1998's "Jesse" on NBC (27 million) and the best demo ratings for a series premiere since the 11.4/29 for NBC's "Inside Schwartz" on Sept. 27, 2001.

NBC took over at 10 p.m. with a victory with "Law & Order: SVU" (11.7 million, 4.2/11), which was ahead of the documentary "To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports" (10.1 million, 2.8/7) and CBS' "Criminal Minds" repeat (10.5 million, 3.1/8). But Woodruff's absorbing report about his wounds in Iraq and the plight of servicemen who have also suffered brain injuries grew upon its lead-in "Primetime: The Outsiders" (5.4 million, 2.1/5).

CBS' "NCIS" (16.2 million, 3.7/9) kept chugging along at 8 p.m. in the face of "Idol" to be the best of the rest against "Dateline: NBC" (6.1 million, 2.2/6) and a repeat of "America's Funniest Home Videos" (5.7 million, 1.8/5). CBS was second best at 9 p.m. with "The Unit" (12.9 million, 3.4/8).

Nightly averages: Fox (29.6 million, 11.9/29); CBS (13.2 million, 3.4/8); NBC (9 million, 3.0/8); ABC (7.1 million, 2.2/6); and the CW (3.4 million, 1.5/4).