American Idol propels Fox to ratings lead

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Just how important is American Idol to Fox's numbers? Consider this--just a month ago, Fox ranked fourth in the season-long battle over the coveted 18-49-year-old demographic that advertisers drool over. Now, Fox has jumped out to first place after only a few weeks with its prized possession American Idol, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Fox appears on its way to retain its crown (this would make five years running) as ratings leader among television networks, unless anyone can top its hefty midseason. With Lie to Me off to a good beginning, the return of 24, Bones' good start on Thursdays, and Fringe posting consistent numbers, it's Fox's race to lose.

CBS still holds the title as America's most-watched network, but that's primarily because it holds the title as most-watched-network-by-older-people. When it comes down to dollars and cents, advertisers look at the key demo ratings--not just total viewers.

Last night, Idol once again dominated, but still seems to be off the impressive numbers it posted a few years ago. In its third week, American Idol drew 25.2 million viewers and a 9.6 rating/24 share. Last week, with all eyes on the brouhaha surrounding Barack Obama's inauguration, the Tuesday edition scored 22.4 million viewers and an 8.9/22. Last Wednesday's show put up more indicative numbers, drawing 25.9 million and a 9.8/25.

Elsewhere, NBC's Biggest Loser continues to be a plump winner (12.9 million viewers, 4.9/12) helping the network to second-place in ratings, CBS landed in third thanks to NCIS (19 million, 3.9/10), and ABC fell to fourth.

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