Fox finishes season as most-watched U.S. network

Thu May 22, 2008 7:51pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Fox network, long a second-tier upstart beside the Big Three U.S. broadcasters, finished the season as undisputed ratings leader for the first time after a year that saw the TV industry battered by a writers' strike and other woes.

Fox, a unit of News Corp, owes much of its success to the smash hit talent contest "American Idol," which remains a pop culture phenomenon and the most-watched show on U.S. television despite a second year of softening ratings.

The upset triumph of rock singer David Cook, 25, over 17-year-old teen favorite David Archuleta in Wednesday's finale drew nearly 32 million U.S. viewers, up 3 percent from last year's conclusion, Nielsen Media Research reported on Thursday.

The two-hour broadcast was the second-most-watched episode of the show this season, behind only the 33 million-plus viewers who tuned in for the debut of the program's seventh installment in January.

For the season as a whole, "American Idol" ended its latest run with year-to-year declines in both overall audience and ratings for viewers aged 18 to 49 -- the group most prized by advertisers. In recent weeks, individual episodes also dipped to record ratings lows.

On average, the show tallied about 28.1 million viewers per broadcast this year, compared with 30.8 million at the height of its popularity in 2006 and 30.4 million last year.

It remains to be seen whether "Idol" is in danger of viewer burnout that even the biggest TV hits inevitably face.

GROWING OLDER   Continued...

<p>Show judges Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell arrive onstage for the finale of "American Idol" at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles May 21, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>