Finale ratings were down. Busy-signal complaints were up. The only thing American Idol did right this TV season was finish number one.

The Tuesday edition of Fox's fancy karaoke tournament averaged 25.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, making it the most watched prime-time series of the 2003-04 season.

The TV year, the May sweeps and Idol's third season all wrapped Wednesday night.

While ratings for Fantasia Barrino's two-hour Idol coming-out party were off 16 percent from last year's Ruben Studdard bash, the Idol franchise on the whole widened its reach.

Last year, the Idol Tuesday show averaged 21.6 million viewers; the Wednesday results show, 21.9 million. This year, the Wednesday installment averaged an estimated 24.4 million--the year's third-most watched show.

Combined, the Idol series, not including ancillary William Hung specials, was up 16 percent in viewers who enjoy the occasional out-of-tune tune.

"Pretty amazing," Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman said of her network's two top 10 entries in a telephone press conference this week.

Idol's growth came as overall network viewership dipped 2 percent.

CBS, which claimed the crown as the season's most watched network, was the only network to add eyeballs (up 4 percent) and young'uns (up 3 percent in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic).

Fox, meanwhile, all but tied NBC for the demo flag among advertiser-friendly car, soap and soda buyers. It marked the first time the so-called fourth network had climbed so high in that year-end ranking.

"This is an extraordinary moment in our network's history," Berman said.

ABC and the WB also experienced extraordinary moments--few of them good.

ABC bled more viewers, losing 10 percent of its already compromised base. The network, which used to proclaim it was "Still the One," was merely the one nobody watched, its shows averaging about 9 million viewers.

The WB shed even more fans, down 11 percent in total viewers, to 3.6 million. Even worse for the youth-coveting network, it was down 17 percent among adults who possibly could pick Chad Michael Murray out of a police lineup.

In press-release-speak, ABC spent the 2003-04 season "[laying] the key building blocks necessary to grow the network." Which is one way of putting it. Another: ABC was beset by bad luck (the death of 8 Simple Rules star John Ritter), bad Thursdays and bad redos (L.A. Dragnet, averaging 4.8 million viewers, the season's least watched show on the Big Three networks, of which the Alphabet ostensibly is still one.)

The WB was sunk by bombs like Tarzan (3.5 million) and Lawrence brothers like Joey, whose Run of the House averaged just 2 million viewers.

Elsewhere:

CBS' Cold Case was the season's most watched new drama (14.4 million); CBS' Two and a Half Men, the most watched new sitcom (15.3 million).
NBC's The Apprentice was the breakout new reality series (20.7 million); Fox's My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance was the breakout new not-quite reality series (16.6 million). Other freshman standouts: CBS' Navy NCIS (11.8 million); NBC's Las Vegas (11.8 million); and, Fox's The O.C. (9.7 million).
Jumping up to the top 10: CBS' CSI: Miami (18.1 million). Slipping out of the Top 10: NBC's Law & Order (14th place, 16 million).
Falling out of the top 10 and knocking its hunky self unconscious: Fox's Joe Millionaire (technically, The Next Joe Millionaire)--106th place, 6.7 million.
In a category by itself, Fox's Tru Calling was the least-watched (4.6 million) freshman series on the top four networks to have its ticket punched for a second season.
In another category by itself, UPN's America's Next Top Model 2 was the most watched reality series (6.3 million)--and the netlet's biggest hit--to promote an orgy, fail to deliver one and somehow not incite a riot.
Long-running series that wheezed their way to the Big Finish Line in the Sky: NBC's Frasier (10.9 million); ABC's The Practice (9.1 million); and, Fox's Boston Public (4.9 million).
A long-running franchise running on fumes on its way to the Big Space Dock in the Sky: UPN's Star Trek: Enterprise (3.3 million).
Coupling (27th place, 12.3 million) was the highest-rated cancellation victim, banished by NBC for failing to convince Friends fans that activities like exercise and channel surfing are overrated.
The so-called death of the sitcom is no joke--only four shows in the top 20 were scripted comedies. Of those, NBC's Friends (21.4 million) is gone, and CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond (17.4 million) is going. At least CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves is optimistic, this week calling Two and a Half Men the "heir apparent" to Raymond.

Overall, CBS led the way with 13.1 million viewers, followed by NBC (11 million), Fox (9.7 million) and ABC (9 million). The WB just topped UPN, 3.6 million to 3.4 million.

Anxious to do battle in the Nielsens again, NBC and Fox both will roll out summer schedules, doing their part to make TV viewing a year-round recreation. Bowing in the coming weeks: New seasons of NBC's Last Comic Standing and Fox's The Simple Life.

Here's a rundown of the 10 most watched shows of the 2003-04 season, according to Nielsen Media Research:

1. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 25.7 million viewers
2. CSI, CBS, 25.6 million viewers
3. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 23.6 million viewers
4. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 21.5 million viewers
5. Friends, NBC, 21.4 million viewers
6. Survivor: Pearl Islands, CBS, 20.72 million viewers
7. The Apprentice, NBC, 20.7 million viewers
8. ER, NBC, 19.5 million viewers
9. CSI: Miami, CBS, 18.1 million viewers
10. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 17.4 million viewers

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