Back in December, we predicted Fox, then far behind CBS in the key ad demo of adults 18 to 49, would pull ahead in that measure by March or April. Turns out we were being overly cautious: As of this week, Rupert Murdoch's other network is a dominant No. 1 with viewers under 50, a full four-tenths of a ratings point ahead of former front-runner CBS. The most-watched Super Bowl ever, of course, is the main reason Fox is in first right now, but the strong return of American Idol has also made a big difference. Fox scored victories in unexpected places, too: Switching Fringe to Fridays has barely dented the show's ratings (which admittedly weren't huge to begin with), and more important has made Fox a player on a night that had previously been a Nielsen black hole.
Despite all of its success this season, Fox isn't having a lot of luck launching new dramas. You know the sad story of Lone Star; last night, Fox premiered another hour behind House — Shawn Ryan's heavily hyped The Chicago Code — and the results were kinda disappointing. The good news: Code is no Lone Star. Its opening audience of 9.4 million viewers was double its fall predecessor, and up 59 percent from what Lie to Me had been averaging more recently. But among folks under 50, Code managed just a 2.4 rating, losing almost half of its House lead-in and finishing a weak third in its 9 p.m. time slot. This, despite a promotional onslaught during Sunday's Super Bowl that saw the show hyped about once every 30 minutes. Code got generally great reviews and could benefit from word of mouth as well as DVR data. Given how well Fox is doing elsewhere, as long as Code doesn't suffer major declines in coming weeks, the network can afford to be patient.
Behind the Numbers
If Fox is looking for another reason to be patient with Code, it might want to consider how much other new dramas are struggling this season. Take CBS's Hawaii Five-0, relentlessly promoted by the Eye as "TV's No. 1 New Drama!" That's true, but drill down a little and it turns out that among adults 18 to 49, Five-0 is actually down 21 percent versus what the fading CSI: Miami had been averaging at 10 p.m. Mondays last season. That's a major bummer, but it's actually a rousing success compared to the rest of the class of 2010.
ABC, for example, has premiered five new dramas this season to disastrous results: two are dead (My Generation, The Whole Truth), two are among the walking dead (Detroit 1-8-7, No Ordinary Family), and one is dramatically underperforming (Off the Map). And NBC's new hours — from The Event and The Cape to Chase and Outlaw — have pretty much been dead on arrival (winter newbie Harry's Law has actually done okay, though it took a hit last night versus a first-run Five-0). Chicago Code may not have gotten off to a fast start, but it at least has a pulse.