How have viewers responded to the tumult in TV so far in 2011? Here's what the Nielsen ratings tell us.
With the show going in to its 10th season, without Simon Cowell, industry insiders thought Idol could crash and burn. It hasn't happened. Through February 16, the show has averaged 25.2 million total viewers, down only 9 percent. "We feel it's a victory," says Fox executive vice president Preston Beckman, who credits the performance of new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. "We succeeded in reinventing the panel," he adds. "Steven has been phenomenal. He's sincere and he's very supportive of the kids. J.Lo's warmth has come across." An increased focus on stronger singers instead of clownish rejects has also helped.
Oprah Winfrey's network recently averaged 237,000 viewers in prime time, ranking at a less-than-stellar No. 55 among ad-supported cable networks. OWN could use more O (Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes is the channel's top-rated show). But it's still early, and OWN partner Discovery Communications will be patient — it recently agreed to lend Winfrey another $50 million to invest in programming.
Piers Morgan Tonight
It started life on CNN as a taped celebrity chatfest but held its own during the network's coverage of the Egyptian revolution. "Piers showed a lot of people he could do live breaking news of an important nature," says executive producer Jonathan Wald. It's held up in the ratings, too. Since his launch, Morgan has averaged 915,000 viewers, up 40 percent from the last three months of Larry King Live.
The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell
Does MSNBC miss Keith Olbermann? Maybe a little. The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell has drawn slightly more than 1 million viewers a night since sliding in to Olbermann's 8pm time slot. That's down only 5 percent compared to the last quarter of 2010, but the loss is steeper among viewers ages 25 to 54. Ed Schultz's The Ed Show, now at 10pm, is also off slightly from what O'Donnell was doing in the hour. "It's a different audience," says Schultz. "It's like starting over. I feel confident we'll hit our stride."