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Idol Premiere Gets Big Ratings, But Smaller Than Last Year’s

The results are in: You voted, and American Idol ... is still the No. 1 TV show in America, by a mile. While it's clear some viewers have decided to join Simon Cowell in saying so-long to the franchise, at least if preliminary Nielsen ratings for the premiere are any indication, Wednesday's two-hour audition-filled bow was still massively well-attended. It was seen by 26.1 million viewers, more than tuned in to the other three big networks (and the CW) combined. Among viewers under 50 (the ones advertisers get most giddy about), nouveau Idol notched a 9.7 rating, also more than the collective total of the other nets (47 percent better, to be exact). Leaving aside sports, this is the best any show has done on TV this season. So what's the downside here?

Well, last year, Idol opened at more than 29 million viewers and earned an 11.7 rating with the younger demo. That means the firm of Jackson, Tyler, and J.Lo lost about 13 percent in overall viewership versus last year's debut (18 percent if you compare the demo score). However, as we noted yesterday, Idol's 2010 ratings slump came in the second half of last season, when Simon had totally checked out and Crystal Bowersox's guitar strumming had started working on our last nerves. So if you compare last night's open to the 2010 Idol finale, seen by around 24 million folks, the franchise's overall viewership was actually up 10 percent (even more in the under-50 measure). What's more, older shows almost always tend to trend down as they age, and the declines for ten-year-old Idol are not dissimilar to those suffered by other elderly series, such as CSI. Fox execs have been predicting a ratings dip for the show, and these numbers fell within their internal projections. Still to be determined: How Idol does in its new Thursday-night slot, and how things shake out in the weeks ahead, which should give us a much better idea of how the show is holding up sans Simon.

Meanwhile, Idol definitely had an impact on other shows, but it wasn't fatal. ABC's The Middle and Modern Family still did great, though Cougar Town did take a bigger hit. Paula Abdul's CBS dance show Live to Dance is now officially a complete disaster: Its 1.0 demo rating was far below even NBC's thoroughly irrelevant game show Minute to Win It. NBC's Chase, which airs at 9 p.m., was also run over by Idol.