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Fox’s Greatest Hit

For the first time ever (but as expected for weeks), Fox finished the 2004-05 TV season as ratings champ in the coveted 18-49 demographic. American Idol, of course, was the network’s most valuable player, propelling Fox from a fourth-place standing before Idol premiered in January to the top spot when the season officially closed last Wednesday.

How big was Idol? So big that Fox didn’t even need last week’s two season-finale episodes to cinch its win. It started the week with a 4.1 rating/11 share and finished with the same numbers when sweeps ended on May 25.

Idol gets the headlines, but new Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori says other shows helped Fox start putting itself back together. One major success was 24, which increased 20% even though it no longer had Idol as a lead-in. The new beneficiary of that lead-in was medical drama House, which became a surprise hit. Then animated favorite Family Guy returned and prospered. “That’s really the foundation of how a winning season was bred,” Liguori says.

But the race went down to the wire, with the spread between the winner and suddenly fourth-place NBC narrower than it has been in years. Fox edged out CBS’ 4.0/11 with 18-49s. ABC improved on its fourth-place finish last year, moving to third with a 3.7/10. NBC tumbled from the top with a 3.5/9, compared with last year’s 4.3 rating, according to Nielsen. NBC, coming into the season, had been tops in 18-49s for eight of the past nine years. (It lost to ABC in 2000-01.)

CBS was the winner in adults 25-54 and total viewers, averaging a 4.9/12 in 25-54s and 12.92 million total viewers. Fox and ABC tied for second in 25-54s, followed by NBC. Fox also nearly tied ABC for second in total viewers, averaging 10.04 million to ABC’s 10.05 million. In 18-34s, Fox came out ahead, followed by ABC.

Additional reporting by Anne Becker