The only real question was: By how much?
Fox’s American Idol returned Wednesday night to its lowest-rated and least-watched regular-season premiere telecast ever (the first season aired during the summer and generally isn’t counted). Idol delivered 17.9 million viewers and a 6.0 adults 18-49 demo rating. That’s down 19 percent from last year’s opener, which was the previous lowest-ever record-holder.
The numbers also mean last night’s Idol premiere will not be the most-watched entertainment show this week — Tuesday’s NCIS had 22.9 million viewers. This is the first time another series was seen by more viewers than Idol during its regular season premiere week.
Fox was braced for worse. Last year Idol was down an unprecedented 24 percent after the network launched The X Factor in the fall. This fall had both X Factor and NBC’s powerful The Voice, so competition show burnout by the time Idol opened seemed likely. Idol still managed to rank as the top-rated singing show premiere this season.
Fox’s American Idol has been largely on a downward trend since 2009 due to the reality mega-hit getting older and facing a broadcast landscape that’s increasingly crowded with singing shows. High-profile new judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban have made for plenty of fun headlines, but media insiders know they’re sandbags on the levy. Last night I predicted (rather accurately as it turned out) that Idol would return down 18 percent in the adult demo. Oddly enough, the only new judge in American Idol or The X Factor history that ever seemingly outright prevented a premiere ratings decline wasn’t by hiring some high-priced diva, but a celebrity who lacked any real music industry experience — Ellen DeGeneres in 2010.
Viewers had mixed reactions to the premiere. To some, having the feel-good show focus on Carey vs. Minaj sniping was a turn off. “If what we can look forward to [this season] is the immature, catty, out of control, ridiculous diva banter/bashing we won’t be tuning in for long,” one reader wrote on my Idol premiere ratings prediction post last night. While EW’s Idol recapper Annie Barrett summarized, “By the second hour of NYC auditions, Nicki had completely taken over the panel — shouting out directions to the contestants and always speaking first. You know, it’s generally fine if someone feels the need to do that. Compared to the autopilot judging on The X Factor and even Idol last season, I am thrilled to have someone in the driver’s seat, and beyond ecstatic that all four judges appeared to be awake and even [gasp!] interested in what was happening. The question is whether millions of American Idol viewers will accept and enjoy that our season 12 chauffeur appears to be rainbow sherbet wig enthusiast.”
See my Idol ratings prediction post for more analysis. And see Barrett’s Idol premiere recap here.
Other shows: The CW’s Arrow actually managed to improve a tenth of a point from its last telecast despite a winter hiatus and Idol competition. Supernatural was up a tick too. ABC’s comedy block was down slightly across the board, though Nashville improved a tick. Criminal Minds was down 10 percent, while CSI was up a notch.