Simon Cowell, Barack Obama

Michael Becker/FOX, AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Tuesday TV's Old-World Headline: "American Idol Beats Barack Obama!"

Tuesday TV's Post-Partisan Headline: "Everybody Wins, Everybody Loses; We're All in This Together—Kumbaya!"

What Happened: In the 8 p.m. hour, Idol (22.4 million, per Nielsen estimates) killed ABC's Inaugural Night concert special (12.6 million). At the same time, Inaugural Night put a hurt into Idol. TV's behemoth was down nearly 8 million viewers from last week's two-hour season opener. In the 18-49 demo, it was down 23 percent. Fox resorted to calling Idol's performance "surprsing[ly] strong," and predicted the show's numbers would go up more than usual once a week's worth of DVR playback is added in.

What Simon Cowell Should Hope to Never See Again: Four—count 'em, four—Obamas.

Combine ABC's two-hour Obama concert with its hourlong news special (9.5 million), and NBC's (6.2 million) and CBS' (6.9 million) own Inauguration Night offerings, and you find a Tuesday-best 35.2 million watched prime-time Obama coverage on free TV. No matter how you crunch the numbers, though, Idol still ruled in the demo. And, officially, it was the night's most watched show.

More Obama-Mania! If estimates hold, yesterday's actual inaugural ceremony, aired live by up to 14 broadcast and cable networks, will go down as the highest-rated swearing-in since Ronald Reagan's first one in 1980. 

In the 56 biggest TV markets, ratings for the Obama event were up 19 percent over Bill Clinton's first Inaugural in 1992, up 40 percent over George W. Bush's first inaugural in 2000, up 71 percent over Clinton's second Inaugural in 1997, and up 147 percent of Bush's second inaugural in 2005.

The Obama show drew the highest rating in North Carolina's Raleigh-Durham market. At first glance, it surprisingly drew the lowest ratings in three Obama-friendly regions: San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Portland and Seattle-Tacoma. At second glance, it all makes sense. Those cities are all on the West Coast, where the swearing-in aired during the morning commute.

Take That, Stock Market: Obama's first day on the job didn't bring investors luck, but it worked wonders for TV shows. Idol aside, NBC's The Biggest Loser (10.2 million), and the CW's 90210 (2.4 million) and Privileged (1.7 million) all posted substantial gains—Privleged, for one, was up 55 percent in viewers.

Back in the Mainstream: At 9 p.m., Fox's Fringe (12.1 million) returned from winter break to win the hour in viewers and tie Biggest Loser for No. 1 in the demo.

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share

We and our partners use cookies on this site to improve our service, perform analytics, personalize advertising, measure advertising performance, and remember website preferences. By using the site, you consent to these cookies. For more information on cookies including how to manage your consent visit our Cookie Policy.