Reality vs. Drama

Beware Idol worship. While it keeps
Fox on top, and remains the most popular show on television, the numbers tell
only part of the story. American Idol may
give Fox an edge in winning February sweeps, but the bigger story this season:
Reality has taken a backseat to drama. Desperate
, Lost,
Medium, House, Numb3rs and
CSI all have water-cooler buzz.

In the first week of the sweep, which ran through Feb. 9, Fox claimed an
overall 11.2/28 rating in the 18-49s demo—more than the combined ratings of
CBS (3.5/9), ABC (3.5/9) and NBC (3.4/9).

Fox's huge lead was widened by its Feb. 6 broadcast of the Super Bowl.
The showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots
pulled in a whopping 33.2 rating/68 share among 18-49s. (This special bump is
thanks to timing. The game is generally broadcast in January; in 2004, it
wasn't a factor in February sweeps.)

Still, most of the credit for Fox's lead goes to
Idol, which has handily beaten the
competition in every episode this season. While the show's ratings are
stellar by most standards, they are not quite as strong as they were last year.
In five of the last eight Idol episodes
aired through Feb 9, the show posted a lower rating in the key 18-49s than in
the same period a year ago, down by roughly 2%.

Expecting an Idol dip, Fox warned
last month that the program's ratings might slide, noting it is common for
audiences to shrink in a show's fourth season. The decline, however, reflects
a broader trend among popular reality shows that dominated ratings charts over
the past few years. (ABC's Bachelor,
CBS' Survivor and NBC's
Apprentice have all seen their ratings drop
a bit.)


Of all the new shows introduced this season, audiences have given their
warmest reception to dramas.

Freshman dramas are the clear favorites with 18-49s. The top 10 list
includes six dramas led by ABC's Desperate
and NBC's midseason hit, The
), just one sitcom, Joey,
and four reality shows: Biggest Loser,
Wife Swap, Supernanny and a spinoff of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition called
EMHE: How'd They Do That?

Drama queens

Many unscripted shows continue to enjoy strong ratings. While all the
networks are developing shows in the genre, they are placing bigger bets on
traditional scripted fare, staking out Lost
and Desperate Housewives territory.

NBC, for example, is investing in a pilot for Fathom, a sci-fi drama about squid-like aliens that
launch an attack on Earth. NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly says the
show would be expensive to produce but, given viewers' current tastes, it is
worth taking the extra risk.

While Desperate Housewives and
Lost are clear winners, it is still too
early to predict what the future holds for other new dramas, especially NBC's
The Medium and CBS'
Numb3rs, both midseason entries.

The charts below contain a breakdown of top shows by genre, and the top
25 shows through Jan. 30.