'Idol' Takes a Ratings Dip -- Albeit a Slight One -- in Season Opener

Sarah Whitaker on the seventh season debut of
Sarah Whitaker on the seventh season debut of "American Idol," which grabbed 33.4 million viewers. (By Michael Becker -- Fox Via Associated Press)
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By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chris Daughtry looks like some kind of "American Idol" soothsayer for having forecast, right before Tuesday's seventh-season debut, that the show was in a state of decline, only to have the debut numbers come out yesterday showing its ratings had . . . declined!

Also looking crazy-prescient is the former head of NBC Entertainment, who, a year ago, told trade publication TV Week: "Nothing burns that bright forever. Some day it will be uncool to watch 'American Idol.' "

Sadly for Kevin Reilly, he's now head of the Fox network's entertainment division.

The seventh-season debut of Fox's reality hit clocked 33.4 million viewers.

That's 4 million viewers shy of last season's unveiling. But, on the bright side if you're a Fox suit, it's about 6 million more people than watched ABC, NBC, CBS and CW combined Tuesday night from 8 to 10. Last year's "Idol" kickoff bagged nearly 9 million more viewers than the combined broadcast competition.

Tuesday's "Idol" start was about 2 million shy of 2006's 35.5 million, and kind of on par with 2005's 33.5 million, especially now that DVR penetration is high enough that the more relevant figure for the two-hour debut will be Nielsen's Live+7 figure -- the average number of viewers who watched the show within a week of its broadcast -- which won't be available until around the end of this month.

Most worrisome for Fox: This year's opener churned out the smallest rating among teens since the show's initial run in the summer of '02. Meanwhile, it snagged the second best rating, behind only last year's debut, among viewers 50 and older.

On the eve of this week's "Idol" debut, Daughtry -- who sprang from his car-dealership job into the public consciousness during the competition series's fifth season, after being turned down to compete in "Rock Star: INXS" -- gave an interview to Rolling Stone in which he said the show was "definitely lacking some credibility at this point."

He added for good measure: "It's in a state of decline, and if they don't do something about it, it's probably not gonna last too much longer."

It's true, you know -- Tuesday's episode copped only about 10 times as many people as have purchased Daughtry's CD.

* * *

The president and CEO of the Recording Academy came out swinging for the group's 50th anniversary Grammy Awards telecast, which is waiting to find out whether the Writers Guild of America will declare it a "struck" show.

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