Oscars fuel ABC ratings victory. Close behind is ''Idol''-powered Fox, with CBS suffering a rare third-place finish

By Gary Susman
Updated March 01, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

For all the talk about how the Oscars are slipping in popularity despite attempts to keep the show fresh (Chris Rock, awards given out in the aisles, Beyoncé as nominated-song utitlity player), Sunday’s Academy Awards still drew 41.5 million people, making it the most watched entertainment broadcast of the TV season to date (and down just 5 percent from last year’s hobbit-happy Oscar show), and helping ABC to a rare first-place victory in the last week of the February ratings sweeps month. Even the pre-show Oscar Countdown special drew 27.7 million, according to Nielsen, numbers most regular series would kill for. Overall, the network averaged 14 million viewers for the week ending Sunday.

A bigger sweeps surprise came from Fox, which placed three American Idol episodes among the week’s top six shows. Tuesday’s edition was the week’s No. 2 show, Tuesday’s American Idol (28.3 million), with Wednesday’s episode following at No. 5 (26.7 million) and Monday’s at No. 6 (23.5 million). Fox averaged 12.1 million viewers for the week. More important, it claimed victory for the entire sweeps month of February, thanks to the combination of Idol and the Super Bowl.

Traditional ratings champ CBS settled for third this week, averaging 11.8 million. It claimed the week’s top scripted show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (No. 3, 28.1 million). NBC finished fourth with an average of 10.1 million. The WB, powered by 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls, edged UPN, 3.5 million to 3.3 million.