You can't blame Sanjaya for this one.
The supposed culprit behind American Idol's recent slide was nowhere to be found as Desperate Housewives sank to an all-time ratings low Sunday night.
The ABC soap drew 15.9 million viewers, big enough for its usual Top 10 finish in the latest Nielsen Media Research rankings, but small enough to raise questions, such as: What the hell happened to Wisteria Lane?
The network cited three possible mitigating factors for Sunday's performance: (1) The show was airing its first new episode in five weeks; (2) the show was airing opposite the return of The Sopranos; and (3) the show was airing on Easter.
Sanjaya Malakar and Daylight Savings Time, a popular network villain of recent weeks, were not named as suspects.
Desperate Housewives' problem is relative—it does still have that Top 10 cachet. But it's also bigger than one worse-than-usual performance. So far, the show is quietly averaging 5 million fewer viewers this season than last, a stunning decline of 22 percent.
By comparison, ABC's Lost, the subject of much hand-wringing over its supposedly floundering ways, is actually running even with last year, and, on average, has only lost about 500,000 viewers since its first buzz-making season.
If this season ended today, Desperate Housewives, which premiered the same year as Lost, would have lost nearly 6 million viewers since its freshman semesters, or more than one-quarter of its fan base.
But the season does not end today. Housewives can tidy things up a bit with about a month's worth of remaining new episodes, including the third-season finale, an episode that reportedly will feature the return of maternity-leave-taking Marcia Cross.
Here are some other ratings highlights from the TV week ended Sunday:
- Malakar is still on Idol, and Idol is still slipping, down five weeks in a row now when compared to its monster year-ago numbers. Last year's Top Nine performance show was watched by 28.8 million; Tuesday's Idol, featuring this year's Top Nine largely ignoring the advice of Tony Bennett, was watched by 26.7 million (first place). Last year's results show, expelling Mandisa, was watched by 26.2 million; Wednesday's Idol, not expelling Sanjaya, was watched by 26.1 million (second place).
- Tony Soprano likely didn't muscle aside too many Desperate Housewives viewers. The long-awaited resumption of The Sopranos' sixth and final season drew only 7.7 million, down from the 9.5 million who tuned in for the official season premiere back in March 2006, per Broadcasting & Cable.
- CBS' CSI (third place, 21.7 million) was broadcast TV's most watched scripted show; CW's canceled 7th Heaven (116th place, 2.1 million) was broadcast TV's least watched scripted show, not counting series in reruns or foreign tongues.
- Fox's Prison Break (39th place, 8.1 million) kept a steady pace in its just-concluded second season, ending up a tick (about 100,000 viewers) from its first year.
- Andy Baldwin did not shave his chest for naught. The season premiere of The Bachelor: Officer and a Gentleman (32nd place, 9.9 million) was the ABC reality show's biggest since quarterback Jesse Palmer began making passes back in April 2004.
- Moses parted the Red Sea, but he couldn't bring much life to Saturday night TV, not even for ABC's traditional spring outing for The Ten Commandments (45th place, 7.6 million).
- NBC supersized The Office (52nd place, 6.7 million), but forgot to supersize its audience.
- NBC renewed 30 Rock (68th place, 5.4 million), but forgot to check to see if there was an audience.
- NBC remembered to cancel Andy Barker, P.I. (95th place, 4.1 million).
- Andy Barker is going to finish its run on Saturday night, so NBC's hit comedy Scrubs (78th place, 4.9 million) can fill its 9:30 p.m., Thursday time slot.
- Sure, ABC could look at the numbers and axe In Case of Emergency (79th place, 4.8 million), but why single out one show when it has so many little-watched comedies to choose from?
- Perhaps because the series' considerable subtext is best appreciated upon repeat viewing, the CW's Pussycat Dolls reality show continues to perform better as a rerun (103rd place, 3.1 million) than as an original offering (115th place, 2.3 million).
- Some 132.7 million people monitored their office-pool brackets via CBS' coverage of the men's college basketball tournament, the network said. That's up from last year's 128.5 million.
- Some 41.4 million people waited in vain for Tiger Woods to win the Masters on Saturday and Sunday, up from last year's 37.3 million, according to CBS.
- In cable, HBO's Entourage returned to its long-dormant third season before a relatively large entourage of 3.8 million, per Broadcasting & Cable.
- Some 2.9 million watched Tennessee down Rutgers in the women's college basketball championship on ESPN without a care or thought to Don Imus.
- Other cable winners: The season finale of VH1's I Love New York (4.8 million); the season finale of MTV's The Hills (2.9 million); and, a regular, old Saturday night episode of Nick's Drake & Josh (4.6 million).
- In daytime, The View is the anti-Desperate Housewives, up 23 percent from a year ago, per ABC stats. For the week of Mar. 26-30, the most recent data available, the show averaged 3.4 million viewers.
Overall, CBS' steady diet of crime shows averaged more viewers than any other network (11.5 million); Fox's heady doses of Idol and House (fourth place, 20.4 million) rated more young-adult viewers.
Fox (9.7 million) placed second in total viewers, just ahead of ABC (9.3 million) and way ahead of NBC (7.1 million).
At the CW (2.6 million), two Pussycat Dolls airings were just not enough.
Here's a look at the most watched prime-time shows for the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research:
1. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 26.7 million viewers
2. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 26.1 million viewers
3. CSI, CBS, 21.7 million viewers
4. House, Fox, 20.4 million viewers
5. NCAA Men's Basketball Championship (Ohio State vs. Florida), CBS, 19.6 million viewers
6. Dancing with the Stars (Monday), ABC, 18.2 million viewers
7. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 15.9 million viewers
8. Shark, CBS, 15.1 million viewers
9. Dancing with the Stars (Tuesday), ABC, 15 million viewers
10. Without a Trace, CBS, 14.1 million viewers