RATINGS FOR IDOL FALL AGAIN

The final performance show of Fox's American Idol drew 23.1 million viewers Tuesday night -- a big number for network television in general but a disappointment for a show that once attracted 50 million viewers for regular episodes. Although the results show is due to air tonight (Wednesday), the judges seemed to deliver their verdict early. Simon Cowell told Adam Lambert, who is competing against Kris Allen that he believed the show had finally found "a true star." Idol ushered in Fox's new series Glee, which drew 12.5 million viewers in its first half hour -- keeping about half of Idol's viewers, but then plummeted to 8.9 million viewers in the second half hour. During the same half hour CBS's The Mentalist captured 17.2 million viewers.

WHERE ARE TV VIEWERS GOING?

Network ratings slipped further last week, despite the fact that many programs were airing season finales or closely approaching them. The top-ten list included the usual players, but all of them had seen better days. American Idol finally eliminated all but its final two contestants, and while Wednesday's results show posted a 14.0 rating and a 22 share, putting it at No. 1 for the week, it was slightly below the show's season average of 14.3/22. ABC's Dancing With the Stars, which came in third, drew an 11.8/18, down from a 12.6/19 average for the season. Indeed every show in the top ten was down from its season average -- at a time when ratings usually rise. The results make all the more curious a Nielsen study released today (Wednesday) indicating that home television viewing in general is up 1.2 percent over last year. Presumably viewers may now be watching more cable shows and fewer broadcast ones. (Online viewing is covered in a separate study.)

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 14/22; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 13/21; 3. Dancing With the Stars (Monday), ABC, 11.8/18; 4. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 11/18; 5. NCIS, CBS, 10.2/16; 6. The Mentalist, CBS, 10.1/15; 7. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 9.3/15; 8. Dancing With the Stars (Tuesday), ABC, 9.1/14; 9. Without a Trace, CBS, 8.8/15; 10. CSI: Miami, CBS, 8.7/15; 10. (Tie) Desperate Housewives, ABC, 8.7/14.

CBS NOT CUTTING ITS FOOTBALL BUDGET

CBS and the National Football League announced Tuesday that they have extended their deal giving CBS the rights to broadcast American Football Conference games for two years, beginning in 2013. The deal also gives CBS rights to carry Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. In a statement, CBS chief Les Moonves said, "This agreement significantly strengthens what is already a great partnership between CBS and the NFL, and continues to add to CBS Sports' reputation as the undisputed industry leader in sports television with top franchises in all of television." Terms of the new deal were not disclosed, but CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus said that Moonves's willingness to pay what was believed to be a record rights fee "would be reassuring to us all to know that he is firmly committed to keeping the best News and Sports programming on CBS. Meanwhile, after years of bitter wrangling, the NFL and Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, reached an agreement that will deliver the NFL Network to about 10.8 million subscribers. The NFL will receive 42 cents per subscriber, less than the 70 cents it had asked, and its games will air on Comcast's second tier, rather than on basic cable as it had wanted. Nevertheless, that represents more than two-thirds of Comcast's subscriber base, moving it out of its sports tier where fewer than 2 million subscribers had signed up to receive it last season.

WITHOUT A TRACE TO VANISH

It may be one of television's highest-rated shows, even after seven seasons, but CBS's Without a Trace reportedly costs $3 million an episode and sometimes even exceeds that amount with episodes like one filmed in post-Katrina New Orleans with one of the stars paddling through flood waters. And with advertisers retrenching, networks regularly reporting quarterly losses, and shares in media companies stuck at record lows, even hits like Without a Trace are not safe from cancellation. And indeed, CBS announced Tuesday that it will not bring the series back next season and that it is also canceling The Unit, another program that has performed well but is expensive to produce. Similarly, NBC canceled the thriller Medium after five seasons, one of the network's few programs to garner decent numbers.(The New York Times reported today that CBS may grab it.) Also biting the dust: NBC's My Name Is Earl.

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