By James Hibberd
Updated February 24, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST

For the first time in five years, another TV series has beaten American Idol outright in the Nielsen ratings to win the night.

After weeks of near-topples and ties, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory overtook Fox’s Idol on Thursday. And when it finally happened, the margin wasn’t small in the adult demo: Big Bang had 16.1 million viewers and a 5.2 rating in the adult demo, while Idol had 15.4 million and a 4.4 rating. Idol fell 14 percent from last week to a new low (clearly the strategy of draaaagging out revealing the Top 24 contestants didn’t work out).

Though there’s been “Big Bang tops Idol” headlines for weeks now, they’ve been based on somewhat premature math, slicing up Idol into half hours like it’s loaf of sourdough instead of a TV show. But now there’s no doubt: Another show beat Idol to win the night. It’s the first time a show has pulled that off since Grey’s Anatomy in 2007. Plus, on the weekly chart, NBC’s The Voice will rank as the highest-rated series, since it topped Wednesday’s edition of Idol, which had a 5.1 to The Voice‘s 6.0.

Fox’s alternative president Mike Darnell exclusively told that if/when Idol was overtaken, the show would still retain enormous value for the network. “It would be nice to reign forever as No. 1,” Darnell said. “But if Idol ever becomes a second- or third-place show, it still has a much bigger impact and value than most other shows because it accounts for so many more hours. Obviously all shows come down, but to still be at this level is amazing, and we’re really grateful for that.”

While we’re at it, we should point out something here: Remember last season when pundits were second guessing CBS’ decision to move the top-rated Big Bang from the cozy Monday comedy block to cold open Thursday nights? Clearly that long game is paying off.

Fox also had The Finder (6.2 million, 2.0) — down 9 percent — whose fans were surely grateful to see Steven Tyler in his underwear right before their show started.

CBS’ Big Bang was up a 10th, Rob (10.6 million, 3.0) slipped 6 percent. Person of Interest (14.4 million, 3.1) rose 11 percent, but The Mentalist (13.2 million, 2.5) fell to a season low. (Mentalist: When this show works, it really works, but most of the time lately you get the sense they’re phoning it in.)

ABC had Wipeout (5 million, 1.5), Grey’s Anatomy (8.9 million, 3.1) down 3 percent and Private Practice (6.4 million, 2.2) down 15 percent.

NBC’s comedy block rose a bit after last week’s downturn: 30 Rock (3.7 million, 1.5), Parks and Rec (3.4 million, 1.7), The Office (5 million, 2.6), and Up All Night (3.5 million, 1.8). The freshman comedy Up All Night had the biggest gain of 20 percent.

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