After the third American Idol is crowned Wednesday night, Fox predicted that it will finish the season within one-tenth of a ratings point of NBC in the key adults 18-49 demographic. That's a victory for the network, Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman said, because "it puts us closer to our nearest competitor than we've ever been."
Fox also leads all other networks by 11% in adults 18-34 and by a whopping 71% in teens, Berman said. "That's the biggest lead in teens for any network in the history of Nielsen's electronic measurement."
Still, all networks besides CBS are down year-to-year, a trend that most of them are trying to reverse by installing a year-round programming model. Fox is the most advanced on that front, largely because the presence of Major League Baseball in October and the strength of American Idol in January forced the network's hand.
Next season, Fox plans to move some of its key shows, with 24 going to Monday at 9 and The OC to what in the world of Friends (now the world of spin-off, Joey,) was TV's toughest time period: Thursday at 8.
"While we believe NBC will remain competitive on Thursday night, we also believe that they will be down significantly without Friends," Berman said. "That leaves an opening for the number-one new show in teens. We feel that there is every opportunity for us to finally get into the game on Thursday. We've got the goods and we have to be aggressive and seize the opportunity."
That said, if The OC fails to perform in its new time slot, Fox is prepared to protect it. "We have no intention of throwing [away] an asset that we built literally week by week. We have no interest in seeing it destroyed. If it doesn't work, we'll move it."