Almost everyone expected Fox's ''American Idol'' to make some noise with its debut, but no one thought it'd hit such a high note. The second season's premiere on Jan. 21 not only improved upon last summer's finale by 16 percent among total viewers (26.5 million versus 22.8 million) -- which is unprecedented for an unscripted show -- but it also outperformed each of the Big Three among young adults.
The next night, the show dumped all over ''The Bachelorette,'' nabbing 24.9 million viewers to Trista's season-low audience of 13.4 million. Although ABC, NBC, and CBS expect ''AI'''s numbers to remain lofty through May, insiders at all three networks claim they won't make any more defensive scheduling moves, as ABC did by preempting ''George Lopez'' in favor of expanded episodes of ''The Bachelorette'' (and thus alienating fans of the comedy). ''The less anybody does, the better off they are in the long-term,'' says one scheduling veteran.
In fact, NBC is experimenting by airing one installment of its promising freshman drama ''Mister Sterling'' against ''AI'' during sweeps. ''There's not a whole lot you can do. When a show like this hits, it's like a tidal wave or an earthquake. You kind of have to ride it out.''