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'American Idol' gives Fox its best Thursday ratings in 16 years

January 21, 2011 |  9:53 am

Jen2_1 "American Idol" pulled off a bit of a magic trick Thursday night, handing Fox its best ratings on the night since 1995 without seriously dragging down the other networks.

Fox moved "Idol" to a Wednesday-Thursday schedule this season after following a Tuesday-Wednesday pattern in years past. In its Thursday debut, "Idol" delivered an average of 22.9 million total viewers, according to the Nielsen Co. That was down a relatively modest 13% compared with last year's Wednesday opener -- not bad considering "Idol's" age and the heightened competition on Thursday nights. 

In the key category of adults aged 18 to 49, the decline was more dramatic. "Idol" -- with new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez -- slipped to a 7.8 rating in that demographic, for a 23% loss compared with last season. That's a fairly alarming drop for Fox and shows that "Idol" continues to erode much more quickly among young adults than it does among the general population.

Still, Fox easily sailed past its rivals on a Thursday, when lots of movie and other big advertising is floating around for the taking, and that has to be heartening news for a network that hasn't been able to get arrested on Thursdays in years.

Schedulers and researchers were closely watching the results to see how "Idol" affected rivals, but the impact seems to have been minimal. CBS' "Big Bang Theory" delivered a 4.2 rating in viewers aged 18 to 49 (13.6 million viewers overall), which is almost exactly in line with where it's been earlier this season.

During the 9 p.m. hour, Fox's quirky procedural "Bones" got a lift from "Idol" and placed second to NBC's block of "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" in 18-49 (3.9 rating vs. 3.6) and second to CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" among total viewers (14.3 million vs. 10.9 million).

The race will get more competitive in the weeks ahead. ABC and CW were both almost entirely in repeats Thursday.

-- Scott Collins

twitter.com/scottcollinsLAT

Photo: Jennifer Lopez is a new judge on "American Idol." Credit: Tony Duran/Fox.

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