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January 27, 2009

Fox moves into 1st place for season

Judge4 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.

Just 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 “American Idol” (but also strong supportive showings from “House,” “24,” “Fringe” and new show “Lie to Me”), Fox has become the highest-rated network yet again.

Though the season’s ratings race is far from set in stone, once an “Idol”-fueled Fox takes the lead it's  unlikely that any network can catch up (or, as in this case, continue to tie). Only the Super Bowl is a large enough event to shake up the standings, and this year struggling NBC is airing the game. In all probability, Fox will win its fifth consecutive season in the demo. 

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

The Fox headline comes despite some annual ratings slippage for “Idol,” with last week taking a larger-than-usual knock due to the 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 overall.

Fox also had the premiere of new series “Lie to Me” (12.4 million, 4.9/12), which thanks to its “Idol” lead-in became the highest-rated series debut this season. While 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 some tough competition Wednesday from the premiere of ABC’s “Lost” (11.4 million, 5.0/12). The thriller was down about 24% from last year, yet 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” (10 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. CBS continues to be the only network that’s up year-over-year in a major demographic (up 4% in viewers). On Friday, CBS’s 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 “The Biggest Loser” (10.3 million, 4.0/9) continuing to perform strong against “Idol.”

2008-09 season-to-date averages

Fox 8.6 million / 3.2 (-14%)
CBS 11.9 million / 3.2 (0%)
ABC 9.1 million / 2.9 (-9%)
NBC 7.9 million / 2.8 (-15%)
The CW 2.1 million / 0.9 (-18%)

Average difference vs. last year for Big 4 nets: -10%

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