It is American Idol's world; we just watch it.
For the third straight year, the Tuesday edition of the Fox phone-clogging pop-culture phenomenon was TV's most-watched show of the just-concluded 2005-06 season, per data released Thursday by Nielsen Media Research.
And for the first time ever, Tuesday Idol was TV's highest-rated prime-timer, breaking a three-year win streak by CBS' CSI. (To be math-y about it, a ratings point, as opposed to a simple head count, is a statistic derived by dividing audience members by the "universe estimate." And now back to simple head counts...)
Idol led Fox to year-end and May sweeps victories in the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic. CBS maintained bragging rights as TV's most-watched network for the fourth year running in both the season-long and May sweeps races.
Tuesday Idol withstood a late charge by, well, Wednesday Idol for the year-end title. The former averaged 31.2 million viewers; the latter, 30.2 million. It's the first time two shows, and, yes, the Idols are counted as separate programs, have topped 30 million viewers since Seinfeld and ER accomplished the feat for NBC in 1997-98.
Wednesday Idol got a big boost from the Taylor Hicks-crowning season finale. The two-hour, Meat Loaf-and-cheese packed spectacular, airing on the final night of the season, averaged 36.4 million people who are still trying to figure out which one was Chris Daughtry and which one was the guy from Live.
Overall, viewership for Tuesday Idol was up 14 percent from last season; viewership for Wednesday Idol was up 16 percent.
The finale alone was up 20 percent from the 2005 Carrie Underwood coronation; and unofficially slipped past the 2003 Ruben Studdard-Clay Aiken sing-off for honors as the most-watched Idol ever. (In 2003, Nielsen counted the Idol finale as two shows--the 8 p.m. hour drew 30.4 million; the 9 p.m. hour drew 38.1 million. The latter is considered the Idol audience record. But combined, the two hours averaged 34.3 million, or less than Wednesday's two hours.)
What's not open to debate is that this past season, only Super Bowl XL (90.7 million) and the Oscars (38.9 million) drew bigger crowds than the Hicks-McPhee finale.
One number that didn't show up on the Nielsen tables, but was indicative nonetheless of the year that was for Idol: 590 million. That's the total number of votes Fox said Thursday it logged throughout the season. By itself, the finale spurred 63 million votes.
Here's a look at some of the other highlights of the 2005-06 season:
Last year's Top 10 apparently wasn't broke, so viewers didn't fix it. Only two shows--ABC's Dancing with the Stars (seventh place, 18.6 million) and Fox's House (10th place, 17.3 million)--were new to the upper echelon. Conversely, only one show was (sort of) banished: CBS' Survivor, which placed just one edition in the top 10 (Guatemala--eighth place, 18.3 million), instead of last year's two. (Panama--Exile Island finished in 11th, averaging 16.8 million.) Everybody Loves Raymond, which placed 10th last year, also was missing from this year's honors list; it was excused on account of it doesn't exist anymore. CSI (third place, 25.2 million) and ABC's Desperate Housewives (fourth place, 22.2 million) were slightly down from this year from last; ABC's Grey's Anatomy (fifth place, 19.9 million) and Fox's 24 (24th place, 13.8 million) were more than slightly up; House was up a sick 32 percent. ABC's Lost (15th place, 15.5 million) kept its buzz, scared off only about 400,000, and held its own opposite Wednesday Idol. CBS' Without a Trace (sixth place, 18.7 million) remained the most popular show nobody talks about, followed closely by CBS' NCIS (16th place, 15.3 million). CBS' The Unit (14th place, 15.5 million) was TV's most-watched new show; UPN's Sex, Love & Secrets (200-something place, 1.4 million) wasn't. It was another banner year for the half-hour comedy. TV's most-watched sitcom, CBS' Two and a Half Men (17th place, 15.1 million), missed the dearly departed Raymond, slipped six places, and shed about 1 million viewers, including, presumably, Denise Richards. Among other comedies: CBS' The New Adventure of Old Christine (27th place, 12.6 million) was the most-watched newbie; NBC's My Name Is Earl (42nd place, 10.9 million) was the most-hyped show that was actually outdrawn by the likes of Fox's unheralded Skating with Celebrities (35th place, 11.4 million). Among the big four networks, ABC's Commander in Chief (28th place, 12.7 million) was the most-watched cancellation victim; Fox's The Loop (160-something place, 4.1 million) was the least-watched renewal recipient. Likewise, relatively decent numbers meant squat for CBS' Out of Practice (33nd place, 11.6 million), Courting Alex (36th place, 11.2 million), ABC's Crumbs (44th place, 10.8 million) and NBC's Surface (56th place, 9.3 million)--all canned. Success is in the eye of the beholding network: ABC canceled Invasion (59th place, 9.1 million); Fox renewed Prison Break (57th place, 9.3 million). NBC's Will & Grace (60-something place, 8.7 million) and The West Wing (60-something place, 8.1 million) went out with whimpers. Although compared to NBC's Joey (90-something place, 7.1 million) and ABC's Alias (90-something place, 6.7 million), they went out with bangs. If not for Howie Mandel, NBC wouldn't have had a single show in the Top 20. Because of Howie Mandel, it had two--the Monday edition of Deal or No Deal (13th place, 15.7 million), and the Wednesday edition of Deal or No Deal (20th place, 14.5 million). 7th Heaven (130-something place, 5.1 million) was the doomed WB's most-watched show; America's Next Top Model (averaging 5 million for its two cycles) was the doomed UPN's most-watched show. Both are headed to the dawning CW.
Overall, CBS shows averaged 12.3 million viewers, followed by ABC (10.8 million), Fox (10.1 million) and NBC (9.7 million). Among the damned, the WB (3.12 million) edged UPN (3.11 million)--both trailed Spanish-language Univision (3.8 million).
Among the big four networks, ABC enjoyed the biggest growth spurt, up 11 percent in viewers. Thanks to the boost provided by the much-maligned the Winter Olympics, NBC's year was almost as bad as last. Translation: It was only down 60,000 viewers.
The fortunes of ABC and NBC could easily be reversed next fall, and the outcomes might not have anything to do with the Peacock's last-minute schedule reshuffle. The difference-maker might be Monday Night Football, which is essentially being retitled Sunday Night Football, and switching from ABC's ledger to NBC's. (Officially, Monday Night Football is moving to ESPN.) This past season, MNF was ABC's fourth most-watched show, averaging 16.2 million, good for 12th overall.
Here's a rundown of the 10 most-watched prime-time shows for the 2005-06 season, according to Nielsen Media Research:
1. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 31.2 million
2. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 30.2 million
3. CSI, CBS, 25.2 million
4. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 22.2 million
5. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 19.9 million
6. Without a Trace, CBS, 18.7 million
7. Dancing with the Stars, ABC, 18.6 million
8. Survivor: Guatemala, CBS, 18.3 million
9. CSI: Miami, CBS, 18.1 million
10. House, Fox, 17.3 million