'American Idol': Ratings are still big, but it's no longer the Death Star

seacrest-idol-judges-320.jpgA funny thing happened to "Community" on the way to being obliterated by the move of "American Idol" to Thursday nights: Nothing.

The NBC comedy, which has never pulled in big audiences in its two seasons on the air, and for that reason it was seen as the most vulnerable show when FOX announced it was shifting the "Idol" schedule this year. Really, it was all but ticketed for the raings morgue. Instead, the first two episodes of "Community" that aired against "Idol" performed a little better than the show's season average in adults 18-49 -- they each scored a 2.2 rating in the demographic, compared to the show's 2.0 average for the season. In total viewers, those two episodes were right in line with the season average of just under 4.7 million viewers.

And it's not just "Community" defying the "Idol" steamroller. In fact, three weeks into "Idol's" new season, the ratings evidence suggests that while the show is still the biggest draw on TV, it's no longer the Death Star, wiping out every show in its path. The shows that have aired directly opposite "American Idol" thus far -- "The Big Bang Theory," "The Middle" and "Modern Family" among them -- have all held up just fine so far.

Part of that is due to the fact that "Idol" has declined some relative to past seasons (as pretty much any show that's been on for 10 seasons does). So far this season, the show is averaging 25.6 million viewers and a 9.3 rating in adults 18-49 on Wednesdays and 22.4 million viewers and a 7.6 on Thursdays. That's down a good bit from this time last season; through three airings in 2010, the Tuesday "Idol" was drawing 28.9 million viewers and an 11.2 in the demo, and Wednesday was averaging 27.5 million viewers and a 10.4.

But even with those declines, the Wednesday "Idol" is still the No. 1 show of the season by all measures, and the Thursday edition is second in viewers and third in adults 18-49 (behind NBC's "Sunday Night Football").

Still, it appears that there's more breathing room for competing shows this season. Consider:

  • The two original episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" that have aired against "Idol" on Thursday nights have been on par with the show's season average in viewers (13.7 million vs. 13.8 million for the season as a whole) and within a few tenths of its 18-49 average (4.3 vs. 4.6).
  • ABC's "The Middle" and "Modern Family" have only aired one new episode opposite "Idol," but they both came out fine. "The Middle's" Jan. 19 episode was within one tenth of the show's 18-49 average (2.6 vs. 2.7) and within half a million viewers overall (8.32 million vs. 8.79 million). "Modern Family" was a little further off its total-viewer average (10.9 million vs. 12.2 million) but within three tenths of a point of its demo average (4.6 compared to 4.9).
  • On The CW, the last two new episodes of "The Vampire Diaries" (3.25 million viewers, 1.5 in adults 18-49) have been right in line with the show's season averages.

FOX says it's perfectly happy with "American Idol's" ratings so far this season. But the other networks can also take some solace in the fact that their own shows are holding on against a show that used to take a big chunk away from their ratings. "Idol" taking a slightly smaller piece of the pie seems to be keeping everyone reasonably well-fed.
Photo/Video credit: FOX