Leaving aside football, which was huge Sunday, the week was dominated by the nation’s other favorite pastime, American Idol. Filter out all the media noise about double-digit declines; forget for a moment that it’s still very possible that the show could suffer massive audience losses sans Simon. For now, at least, Idol has proven that it still has the ability to tower above everything else in the TV landscape. Wednesday and Thursday’s premiere episodes were seen by a combined average of 11.5 million viewers under 50 years old; the next biggest regularly scheduled series on broadcast TV last week drew about half as many folks in that demo. Idol may not be immune from aging forever, but its 2011 nip/tuck does not appear to be a Kenny Rogers–level plastic-surgery nightmare.
Meanwhile, a word about Jersey Shore: Its stranglehold on American pop culture grows stronger each week. If you take out Idol, football, and a football-boosted special Sunday episode of Hawaii Five-0, the No. 1 show in the country in the key advertiser demo of adults 18-49 — on broadcast and cable — was Jersey Shore. It averaged a 4.7 demo rating, compared to a 4.6 for Modern Family and Two and a Half Men. Snooki and the Sitch might want to consider the merits of another sick-out before hopping on that plane to Italy for season four.
Paula Abdul left Idol in a huff because producers wouldn’t pay her what she thought she was worth. Well, whatever CBS is paying her to star in Live to Dance is almost certainly too much: The show pretty much fell off a Nielsen cliff last week. Strangely scheduled opposite the Idol premiere (somebody at CBS must really hate Forever Your Girl), Wednesday’s episode of the dance competition drew just 1.3 million viewers 18 to 49, or about 1/12th the audience of Idol. Worse, it was the least-watched original series on CBS last week. If Simon did make a secret deal with Paula for a judging gig on The X Factor, he might want to secretly rip up said deal.
Behind the Numbers
Were it not for the return of the Idol express, the week’s big ratings story would surely have been the impressive launch of NBC’s three-hour Thursday-night comedy block. Our favorite factoid: Parks and Recreation actually broke into the top twenty regularly scheduled shows last week in adults 18 to 49. Top twenty! Such a breakthrough calls for a rewatching of this.
Among the other ratings winners last week: CBS’s Hawaii Five-0, which got lots of sampling (19.3 million viewers, to be precise) via a special post-football, fake tsunami episode. CBS’s NCIS also continues to be a tsunami in its own right: While well behind Idol among younger folks, the show’s overall audience last week was 21.1 million — within spitting distance of Idol’s total tune-in. Old folks also like David E. Kelley’s Harry’s Law, whose premiere audience of 11.1 million was enough to land in the top twenty. The Kathy Bates starrer also did decently in the adults 18 to 49 demo, and held on to almost all of its premiere audience last night. You do not underestimate the David E. Kelley. Nor, by the way, should you count out Fringe fans: Despite the much-fretted-about move to Fridays, the show actually did a tad better than its most recent Thursday episode. If this holds up (and it should), Fox might finally have broken its Friday-night curse of low-rated sci-fi shows.
Finally, we should also give some love to the Vulture-approved How I Met Your Mother: Last week’s the-gang-goes-to-a-funeral episode gave the show its best audience in nearly two years and was among the top ten scripted series with viewers under 50. Two and a Half Men and The Office also had great numbers last week; perhaps the buzz surrounding newer comedy hits Modern Family and Glee is helping folks remember their old favorites.