College hoops drive CBS ratings victory. Fox, boosted by an extra hour of ''Idol,'' is still a distant second for the week

March 29, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Happy accidents meant ratings success for the networks this  week. CBS got extra mileage out of college basketball, thanks to three nailbiter games that went into overtime. Audiences for March Madness regional finals games were up 20 to 30 percent from last year. The top game, Saturday’s Illinois vs. Arizona contest, drew 14.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Basketball, Survivor: Palau (19.1 million), and the CSI franchise helped drive CBS to a weekly win, averaging 13.94 million viewers for the week.

Fox’s happy accident was the snafu that displayed the wrong voting phone numbers for three American Idol contestants, forcing the network to re-air the performance segments the following night — adding an hour of top-rated Idol to Fox’s slate. Tuesday’s Idol was the week’s most-watched show, drawing 27.6 million viewers. Wednesday’s virtual rerun drew 20.9 million (No. 3), and Thursday’s results show pulled in 20.2 million (No. 4). Along with House (No. 7, 17.3 million), Idol helped Fox come in second overall, though far behind CBS, with an average audience of 10.3 million.

ABC edged out NBC for third place with 8.7 million to NBC’s 8.6 million. Boosting ABC was the return, after a five-week absence, of Desperate Housewives, which was the week’s second most-watched show and drew 24.1 million viewers. Some 16.2 million of them stuck around to watch the series premiere of Grey’s Anatomy (No. 10). NBC didn’t land any shows in the top 10 (its highest-rated show was ER, No. 15, with 15 million), though The Office had a promising debut with 11.2 million. At the netlets, UPN finished ahead of the WB, 3.2 million to 2.6 million.

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