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Primetime Ratings: 'American Idol' Down But Still Dominant

The return of American Idol, whose first-night golden ticket-holders ranged from a bikini-clad hottie to a visually-impaired classical pianist, scored an 11.6 rating/28 share in the key 18-49 demo—down from last season, but still good enough to beat all the other English-language networks combined for the night, according to Nielsen overnight ratings.

Fox’s midseason giant averaged a 13.8 rating/32 share in its two-hour premiere last January, which had been significantly down from the 15.7/36 it scored with its January 2007 premiere (one caveat is the increase in time-shifted viewing that makes year-to-year comparisons more difficult).

As in past seasons, the show grew throughout the night, from a 9.2/24 in its first half hour to a 13.1/29 in its final half hour.

Last night was the veteran powerhouse's first outing with a new, fourth judge, songwriter/singer Kara DioGuardi, who was added for some gender balance and back-up for Paula Abdul in the "girl power" department, Fox said last summer when it announced her addition to the panel. But it was Paula doing the backing up, coming to Kara’s defense when a bikini-clad contestant claimed to have sung better than DioGuardi.

At the Television Critics Association press tour this week, DioGuardi asserted that she was not there to take Paula's back, but instead to be out front with her own opinions. Both she and Abdul played down talk of tension between the two

In a distant second on the night was CBS with a 3.5/8, led by new drama, The Mentalist, at a 3.8/9.

NBC, rebounding from a weak Monday performance (1.8/4), averaged a 3.3/8 in the demo, topped by Law & Order: SVU with a 3.5/9.

ABC was fourth with a 2.2/5. New reality show Homeland Security USA averaged a 1.9/5 up against Idol's first hour, which ABC pointed out was up 50% in the demo from the last year's 1.2/3 in the same time period against Idol. ABC's best performance was from reality/news show, What Would You Do?, which averaged a 2.8/7 at 10-11, but did not have to go up against Idol.

The CW averaged a .8/2, led by 90210 at a 1.1/3 up against Idol's first hour.

For those keeping score, it was Fox 11.6/28, CBS, ABC, NBC, and CW 9.9/24 for the night.

Fox gets another bite at the apple Wednesday night with its second two-hour installment of Idol.