From 8 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, "American Idol" averaged 33.6 million viewers, including one-third of the 18-to-49-year-olds watching TV at the time. Viewers joined the show throughout its two-hour run; by the final half-hour, nearly 37 million were watching, including nearly half of the female teens who were tuned in to TV.
The episode featured auditions in Washington. Among those who tried out was a woman named Regina who had sold her wedding ring to make her audition possible; she got through the first round and made it to Hollywood.
Mary Roach, 18, of Manassas gets her shot at stardom in front of "American Idol" judges at Washington auditions.
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The "Idol" start-up's audience surpassed the 100th episode of CBS's "CSI," which aired during the November ratings sweeps, and Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Fox, in which the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Yankees. Both of those programs scored nearly 32 million fans.
The big start for "Idol" was particularly gratifying to the folks at Fox after they suffered some of the biggest reality-series train wrecks ever last fall. The Fox Reality Disaster Parade includes "Who's Your Daddy?" "Renovate My Family," "Complex Malibu," "The Next Great Champ," "The Rebel Billionaire" and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss."
But Fox has not been the only network to suffer reality-series slump, leading some pundits to say the interest in reality series is ebbing.
CBS pulled "The Will" after just one episode because, Moonves said during his appearance here Tuesday, it was a very bad show. Lousy ratings inspired NBC to yank "Last Comic Standing" off its prime-time lineup before revealing who the last comic standing was, and "The Benefactor" was anything but, for ABC.
Even some of the reality franchises have had ratings slips this season.
CBS's "Survivor: Vanuatu" was down by about 1 million viewers compared with the previous fall's "Survivor: Pearl Islands." NBC's "Apprentice" fumbled nearly 5 million viewers compared with its first edition last spring, and its "Fear Factor" has lost about 2.5 million viewers this season compared with last. ABC's fall edition of "The Bachelor" came in 5 million short compared with fall '03.
Until this week's "American Idol" debut, only one major broadcast reality series seemed to buck the notion that the sheer volume of reality series had turned off some viewers. ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" is averaging nearly 5 million more viewers this season.