FOX Tops Ratings; 'Sopranos' Returns Strong

Fox hit high notes with its three telecasts of "American Idol" to win in the prime-time ratings last week, while runner-up CBS scored with several dramas, including a brand-new one, in the Nielsen faceoff.

Meanwhile, premium-cable HBO's much-anticipated — after a 21-month hiatus — season premiere of "The Sopranos" attracted 9.5 million viewers when it went up against ABC's hit "Desperate Housewives." That's down from the 12.1 million viewers who tuned to the return of the mob drama for its fifth season in 2004. But for HBO, which is available in about 30 percent of the nation's TV homes, that was in a pre-"Desperate Housewives," less competitive environment.

"The whole state of Sunday night television was much different than it is today," said Dave Baldwin, executive vice president, program planning, for HBO Cinemax.

He noted that this first "Sopranos" episode would air five more times this week, besides being available on-demand.

Sunday's audience "represents a starting point," he said, similar to a motion-picture's first-night grosses, "but your eye is on the gross for the total run."

In broadcast competition, three of the week's four most-watched shows were "American Idol" editions, with CBS' "Crime Scene Investigation" wedged into third place.

Other big dramas for CBS included "Without a Trace," "CSI: Miami," and, in 10th place, the robust premiere of the David Mamet-created military drama, "The Unit."

ABC was represented in the Top 10 with, predictably, "Grey's Anatomy" in fifth place, and right behind it, "Desperate Housewives."

For NBC, in a dismal fourth place for the week overall, the highest-rated entry was the Monday edition of its new quiz show, "Deal or No Deal," ranked 17th.

For the week, Fox averaged 13.5 million viewers (8.1 rating, 13 share), followed by CBS with 12.6 million (8.1 rating, 13 share), ABC with 9.1 million (5.9 rating, 10 share), and NBC with 8.3 million (5.5 rating, 9 share). Univision had 3.9 million (2.0 rating, 3 share), the WB had 2.4 million (1.6 rating, 2 share), UPN had 3.2 million (2.1 rating, 3 share), Telemundo had 950,000 (0.6 rating, 1 share), and Pax TV had 580,000 (0.3 rating, 1 share).

NBC's "Nightly News" won the evening-news ratings race, averaging 9.4 million viewers (6.5 rating, 13 share). ABC's "World News Tonight" had 8.6 million viewers (6.0 rating, 12 share) and the "CBS Evening News" had 8.0 million (5.5 rating, 11 share).

A ratings point represents 1,102,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 110.2 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of March 6-12, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "American Idol" (Wednesday), Fox, 30.38 million; "American Idol" (Tuesday), Fox, 28.56 million; "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," CBS, 27.16 million; "American Idol" (Thursday), Fox, 26.63 million; "Grey's Anatomy," ABC, 22.51 million; "Desperate Housewives," ABC, 22.20 million; "House," Fox, 20.56 million; "Without a Trace," CBS, 20.28 million; "CSI: Miami," CBS, 18.61 million; "The Unit," CBS, 18.50.