Pitch Perfect 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.''
Screen Stealers Speaking of Fox, the net has made the unusual decision to interrupt shows like Boston Public and Malcolm in the Middle with action-packed promos, known as ''bottom thirds'' for the amount of TV screen they cover. (One outrageous example: Joe Millionaire, a.k.a. Evan Marriott, running from a bevy of brides.) Although some producers are unhappy (the net has not scheduled bottom thirds on King of the Hill since the show complained), expect plenty more of these ads this spring -- including a speeding car that'll promote Fastlane, and a Millionaire finale promo featuring Marriott chasing the flock of brides with a bulldozer. ''You don't need research to tell you that a guy running across the bottom of the screen with a bunch of screaming brides chasing after him is gonna get more attention than a simple logo,'' says Fox's exec VP of marketing Roberta Mell.
AND SO ON... Trista Rehn may have chosen an unconventional way to find a husband, but she will insist on a traditional proposal in the season finale of The Bachelorette on Feb. 19. Although ABC won't confirm, sources say Rehn will give up control long enough to allow the suitor she picks to pop the question.... Don't rule out the possibility that castoffs from The Bachelor franchise could end up on ABC's upcoming reality show Are You Hot? -- or vice versa. ''We joke about it, but we're not opposed to crossovers,'' says VP of specials Andrea Wong.... Painful ABC reality note, take 3: The net will consider an All American Boy pageant series should All American Girl (March 12) score a ratings coup.