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January 29, 2009

'Mars' slips; 'Idol' improves; Couric flops

Life_marsWednesday night saw a possible ratings pivot for "American Idol," a Katie Couric primetime news experiment, the return of a freshman series and the second week performances of a couple key shows.

First, the return of ABC' "Life on Mars" to a new time period didn’t result in the surge of new viewers that the network had hoped.

“Mars” (6.5 million, 2.3 preliminary adults 18-49 rating and 6 share) hit a season low and was down 18% from its Thursday average when it aired after “Grey’s Anatomy.” Despite heavy promotion during “Lost,” the return of “Mars” placed last in the 10 p.m. hour.  The “Mars” transplant is the flipside of ABC putting “Private Practice” after “Grey’s” on Thursdays (a move that’s working out quite well). 

In their second weeks, “Lost” (11.1 million, 4.8/11) and Fox’s new investigative drama “Lie to Me” (12.1 million, 4.4/10) declined while airing head-to-head at 9 p.m. despite CBS’ airing a repeat. The shows were deadlocked during their premieres, but last night their ratings gap widened, with “Lost” now firmly in the lead. “Lost” fell a couple tenths, and “Lie” was down 10% (though "Lie" did better among total viewers -- retaining 98% of its premiere).

The “Lie” drain comes despite lead-in “American Idol” (27 million, 10.1/25) improving. After some worrisome slippage last week, Tuesday’s “Idol” matched last Wednesday’s. And now last night’s has climbed 3% above that number. The “Idol” performance ties the singing competition’s same night last year. If the number improves slightly in the nationals, like Fox expects, it means that despite all those “’Idol’ has declined” headlines, that for first time this season an “Idol” episode will be higher-rated than last year.

Fox won the night, followed by ABC (which also aired a “Lost” repeat at 8 p.m. that includes those distracting “pop-up-video” style “ 'Lost’ for Dummies” plot explanations).

NBC was third with “Knight Rider” (6.1 million, 1.9/5), a repeat, and then “Law & Order” (8.9 million, 2.6/7). "Order" won 10 p.m. despite having the hour's weakest lead-in.

CBS was fourth, starting the night with “The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" (5.7 million, 1.2/3).

The Couric special has been billed as the first-ever primetime edition of the show. It allowed CBS to see how the anchorwoman's struggling newscast might fare as inexpensive counterprogramming. Yet "Evening News" easily ranked as the lowest-rated original program of the night (and under-performed most repeats, as well). CBS says the event was always meant to be a one-time thing, merely a primetime sampling opportunity for the newscast. 

“We were able to achieve our objective of exposing ‘The CBS Evening News’ to an incremental audience, and hopefully attract more viewers to our 6:30 broadcast,” said Sean McManus, president of CBS News and CBS Sports, in a statement. “We are pleased that viewers are responding to the quality of the newscasts that Katie and the team are producing in each and every night.”

CBS followed the newscast with encores. The CW aired repeats.

UPDATE: In the nationals, "Idol" climbed to a 10.2 as expected. "Lost" went up a tenth, to a 4.9, while "Mars" sank further, to a 2.1. Couric dropped to a 1.1. "Lie" was unchanged.


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