Critics are beating the drums for Jerry Seinfeld to host the next Oscars. But Ellen DeGeneres has her own troops: Women.

The female audience may have been the difference between another down ratings year for the Oscar telecast, and its first up year since 2004.

Sunday's 79th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by first-timer DeGeneres, posted its highest ratings among young women, 18-34, since 2002, when Whoopi Goldberg emceed, ABC said. Compared to last year, when manly Jon Stewart hosted, ratings among that group were up 16 percent.

The show also posted increases among women 18-49 and 25-54.

Eyeball-wise, the telecast averaged more than 40 million viewers, final Nielsen Media Research numbers released Tuesday showed.

The show topped Nielsen's weekly rankings, and, barring a record-size American Idol, likely retained its annual title as TV's most watched event not named the Super Bowl.

The Oscars, incidentally, has been referred to as the Super Bowl for women. And with that DeGeneres, who isn't only a woman, but who hails from the woman-dominated realm of daytime TV, may have had the in.

Where Stewart saw viewership decline by more than 3 million viewers on his watch, and 2005 host Chris Rock saw the numbers slip by more than 1 million, DeGeneres saw viewership grow by 1.3 million.

In defense of men in general and male Oscar hosts in particular, DeGeneres didn't come close to Billy Crystal, who has twice hosted this decade, and posted the show's two biggest telecast—2000's, which averaged 46.3 million, and 2004's, which averaged 43.5 million.

Stewart and Rock also might have been hampered by smallish-movies taking the Best Picture prizes—Crash in 2006 and Million Dollar Baby in 2005—while DeGeneres might have benefited from popular favorite The Departed emerging as Sunday's big winner.

DeGeneres' reviews were better than the show's, in that the host was deigned inoffensive, while the show was deigned boring. And in the aftermath, at least a few critics, including Variety's Brian Lowry, floated the idea of Seinfeld, who turned a presenting gig into a mini-showcase on Sunday, taking on the job next year.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Here are some more ratings highlights from the TV week ended Sunday:

  • The American Idol girls aren't only outsinging the boys, they're outdrawing them. Wednesday's show on Fox, featuring the female contestants, averaged 30.5 million (second place), compared to 29.5 million (third place) for Tuesday's outing for the male contenders.
  • What else is new? Idol's first live-results episode of the season (sixth place, 24.4 million) was bigger than last season's initial live-results episode (23.4 million).
  • Only about a fourth of Idol's Thursday audience tuned in for The O.C.'s series finale, which was actually a last bit of good news for the now-late Nielsen-challenged soap (60th place, 6.6 million).
  • Seriously, Meredith's afterlife arc is a big draw for ABC's Grey's Anatomy (fourth place, 27.4 million), which hit a series high on Thursday.
  • As Grey's lead over CBS' CSI (seventh place, 21.8 million) widens, it might be about time for Gus to go scouring for clues in heaven.
  • Barbara Walters' Oscar special (13th place, 14.5 million) scored its best numbers in five years, but still got outdone by Oprah Winfrey's Oscar special (11th place, 15.4 million), both broadcast on ABC.
  • CBS' Rules of Engagement (16th place, 13.9 million) may be keeping the seat a little too warm for the taste of The New Adventures of Old Christine.
  • ABC's Lost (21st place, 13 million) narrowed the gap with CBS' CSI: NY (18th place, 13.7 million), which says a lot about what it's come down to for the former Top 10 hit: narrowing the gap.
  • Ominous news for Scrubs fans: NBC has run out of adjectives to describe the comedy's latest weak performance—71st place, 5.7 million.
  • On account of NBC can't cancel everything—not without making a lot of extra work for itself—the network has renewed Las Vegas (42nd place, 8.4 million) for a fifth season.
  • CBS' Jericho (44th place, 8.3 million) is back, and finding out how much fun it is to go up against Idol on Wednesday.
  • On cable, E!'s Oscars arrival show, Live from the Red Carpet, hit the Top 10, averaging 3.8 million viewers. TV Guide Channel's coverage averaged 1 million. (E! and E! Online are divisions of E! Networks.)

Because the Oscars aired only once to Idol's three telecasts, Fox swept the sweeps week, taking honors as the most watched network (averaging 15 million viewers) and as the highest-rated network among 18-to-49-year-olds.

The Oscars did help ABC (13 million) pass CBS (11.2 million) for a pair of second-place finishes. Fourth-place NBC (8 million) was beyond help.

The CW (3 million) was distinguished by Friday Night Smackdown (77th place, 5.4 million) and awaiting Wednesday's latest America's Next Top Model premiere.

Here's a look at the 10 most watched prime-time shows for the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research:

1. 79th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 40.2 million viewers
2. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 30.5 million viewers
3. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 29.5 million viewers
4. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 27.4 million viewers
5. Road to the Oscars 2007, ABC, 27.1 million viewers
6. American Idol (Thursday), Fox, 24.4 million viewers
7. CSI, CBS, 21.8 million viewers
8. CSI: Miami, CBS, 19.2 million viewers
9. Deal or No Deal (Monday), NBC, 17.6 million viewers
10. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 16.6 million viewers 

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