Empire Debuts to Huge Ratings, Shockingly Surpasses American Idol

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Photo: Chuck Hodes/FOX

Viewers were clearly in an Empire state of mind Wednesday: Fox’s new hip-hop soap-opera opened to a very impressive 3.7 rating among adults under 50, basically quadrupling what Red Band Society had been doing in the time slot and surging past Gotham to become Fox’s biggest drama debut of the season (and in several years). And in a bit of a shocker, Empire managed to do better than its American Idol lead-in (which notched a 3.1 demo rating in preliminary Nielsen data). That, of course, is the bummer news for Fox today. Idol averaged just 10.9 million viewers, a decline of about 25 percent from last year’s opener. And in the key demo of adults under 50, the 3.1 rating for Idol now ranks as the show’s lowest-rated premiere ever, behind even the 2002 series premiere and well below last year’s bow (4.7 rating). Still, it’s worth noting that the Idol open nearly matched the ratings for last month’s season finale of NBC’s The Voice (3.3 demo rating), and that Idol remains more popular than many Fox scripted shows. The big question for Fox now is whether Empire can hold onto the big audience that sampled it Wednesday. It has at least one high-profile fan: Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes tweeted her support for the show just after its West Coast premiere. “So now I am all about Empire,” she wrote. “ALL ABOUT #EMPIRE, tweeples.”