So much for American Idol showing some viewer erosion.
At the TV critics press tour in L.A. Monday, Fox warned that ratings for its flagship program, American Idol, will likely shrink this season as the talent contest’s format becomes more familiar to viewers.
That prediction appeared off the mark, or was perhaps some gamesmanship, given the 33.4 million viewer average for Tuesday night's premiere. That compares to 28.6 million for the 2004 premiere, 26.5 million for 2003 and only 9.8 million for 2002.
Idol's performance overshadowed UPN's day with those same critics. The strong ratings were the buzz of the day, with the issue coming up during press conferences and in hallway conversations. "It's dazzling," said one critic.
Idol also won the 18-49 demo with a 14/33, easily beating the other five networks combined. It was the top rated-show of the season on any network, even beating Game seven of the ALS championship series between the Red Sox and Yankees (also Fox) and the 100th episode of CSI on CBS.
For all the off-key performances drawn from Idol auditions, Idol's two-hour debut was strong by many measures.
For example, the night built from 28 million viewers during the first half-hour to 35 million viewers during the final half-hour. Fox's average audience for its two-hour night exceeded ABC, NBC, CBS, WB, UPN and, yes, even Pax combined.
The second-best show of the night -- Law & Order:SVU drew fewer than half the viewers Idol did.
Fox is counting on American Idol to boost its overall performance, which has been lackluster so far this season.
The next big test comes tonight, when Fox airs one hour of Idol followed by the hour series debut of Point Pleasant, a good-vs.-evil drama from the producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.