Worst to first, for a song

Two weeks of 'Idol' give Fox share of season lead

It's only two weeks after the premiere of "American Idol," and already Fox has leapfrogged rivals and caught CBS as the top-rated network for the entire broadcast season. Last month, Fox was in fourth place in the advertiser-friendly adults 18-49 demographic.

As of Tuesday, driven primarily by the eighth-season debut of "Idol" — but also with strong supportive showings from "House," "24," "Fringe" and freshman series "Lie to Me" — Fox has become the highest-rated network yet again.

Although the season's ratings race is far from set in stone, once an "Idol"-fueled Fox takes the lead, it's unlikely that any other network can catch up. Only the Super Bowl is a large enough event to shake up the standings, and struggling NBC has the game this year. In all probability, Fox will win its fifth consecutive season in the demo.

Rival CBS remains in front in total viewers, however, in a fight that will give Fox a tougher time. That battle could stretch all the way until May.

The Fox headline comes despite annual ratings slippage for "Idol," with last week taking a larger-than-usual knock because of Tuesday's inauguration of Barack Obama. The more typical Wednesday episode (25.9 million viewers, 9.8 preliminary adults 18-49 rating and a 25 share) was down about 10% from last year, with the jury still out on whether the show's format changes will benefit the season.

Fox also had the premiere of "Lie" (12.4 million, 4.9/12), which — thanks to its "Idol" lead-in — became the highest-rated series debut this season. Monday's combo of "House" (15 million, 5.5/13) and "24" (12.1 million, 4.1/9) allowed the network to rule CBS' usual stronghold.

"Lie" faced tough competition Wednesday from the premiere of ABC's "Lost" (11.3 million, 5.0/12). The thriller was down about 24% from last year but still helped ABC rank second in the overall standings last week. ABC's Thursday night drama "Grey's Anatomy" (14.4 million, 5.7/14) was the highest-rated scripted series, while Monday's "The Bachelor" (9.9 million, 3.6/8) continues to surprise, growing each week.

CBS ranked third, with "CSI" (17.6 million, 4.9/12) modestly lower than usual during the show's first week without William Petersen. On Friday, CBS' Canadian import "Flashpoint" (10.2 million, 2.4/7) posted gains for the third week in a row.

NBC ranked fourth, with Thursday's "The Office" (8.8 million, 4.6/11) ranking as the network's best-rated show. NBC boasts that "The Biggest Loser" (10.3 million, 4.0/9) continues to perform strong against "Idol." (partialdiff)