'Idol' wins ratings gold over Olympics, 'Survivor,' 'Stars'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In one of the biggest prime-time showdowns of the TV season, American Idol not only continued its winning ways over NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics on Thursday, but also trounced CBS' Survivor and ABC's Dancing With the Stars in the bargain.

But perhaps the biggest winner of all was television itself -- with 11 million more viewers than normally watch Thursday night, for a total of 122 million viewers.

In a bold scheduling move, Fox aired a special edition of Idol from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. in head-to-head competition with the start of women's figure-skating finals -- an event that historically has been the highest rated of the Winter Olympics. With an American skater, Sasha Cohen, entering the competition in first place, analysts had expected Thursday would be NBC's best shot at toppling Fox.

But Idol wound up owning the hour with 23.1 million viewers compared with 17.7 million for the Olympics, and about 14.8 million for both Survivor and the first hour of Dancing with the Stars. Furthermore, Idol again dominated in the key demographic of viewers ages 18 to 49.

Things picked up considerably for Dancing and the Olympics from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. -- without Idol to kick them around. The Olympics went on to finish first for the rest of the night in overall viewership, while Dancing took the honors in younger demographics from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Viewing peaked for the Olympics between 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., when 30.6 million viewers tuned to NBC to see Cohen (who won a silver medal) and Japan's Shizuka Arakawa (who won gold) skate.

With local skater Kimmie Meissner competing, Baltimore once again went bonkers, with one out of every four of the area's 1.089 million TV households tuned to the Olympics. Baltimore viewership for the Olympics on Thursday night was the fifth-highest in the country.

Tuesday, when Meissner was also skating, Baltimore ranked third in Olympic viewership nationally. But Wednesday -- with no Meissner -- the level of interest dropped to 29th with less than half the audience of Baltimore-area viewers of Tuesday or Thursday.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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