After all the hype, Fox's The X Factor debuted to a relatively underwhelming 12.14 million viewers and a 4.2 rating among 18-to-49-year-olds, preliminary Nielsen data show — far shy of American Idol's numbers for its Season 10 opener.
In comparison, that Idol debut attracted 26.2 million viewers and a 9.7 in the advertiser-coveted demo.
To be fair, the new show's Nielsens actually are somewhat better than The Voice and The Sing-Off, which were deemed "hits" for NBC. But Cowell and network executives were just asking for negative comparisons to Idol by saying Factor would be "the biggest show on television, the biggest show in the world ..." On Thursday, Fox execs were saying that expectations — which they helped foster — were "ridiculous."
Nevertheless, The X Factor actually won prime time's first hour with 11.72 million, against the premiere of CBS' Survivor: South Pacific, (10.35 million), ABC's The Middle (9.35 million), NBC's Up All Night (6.04 million) and Free Agents (3.86 million) and the CW's H8R (1.3 million).
But it was all downhill from there. How bad did it get? The Simon Cowell-Paula Abdul reunion show, marked by the lowlight of a contestant exposing himself on stage, came in third in its second hour — to ABC's Emmy-winning Modern Family (14.29 million viewers, 6.0 demo rating — up 18 percent from a year earlier) and CBS' Criminal Minds (14.07 million, 4.1). Rounding off the hour were the second-season opener of NBC's Harry's Law (7.30 million, 1.2) and America's Next Top Model on The CW (1.56 million, 0.7).
Ted Danson's debut as the new supervisor on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation won the last hour of prime time in total viewership with 12.59 million and a 3.1 in the demo. Demo rating bragging rights, though, went to Emily VanCamp's return to television on ABC's Revenge (10.15 million, 3.4 demo). The 13th season debut of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit finished third in the three-way race (7.60 million, 2.3).