The debut of Simon Cowell's "The X Factor" played second fiddle to "Modern Family."
On a competitive night of fall debuts, Fox's singing contest kicked off Wednesday with a total audience of 12.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen Co. ratings. The real glory went to ABC's Emmy-winning "Modern Family," which earned a leading 14.5 million viewers.
Among advertiser-coveted young adult viewers, the ABC 8-10 p.m. EDT sitcom duo of "The Middle" and "Modern Family" were the leaders and topped "X Factor" by 5 percent.
"X Factor" was bested in total viewers from 9-10 p.m. EDT by both "Modern Family" and CBS' "Criminal Minds," which drew 14.1 million viewers. But it was No. 1 in the 8 p.m. hour, outperforming "The Middle" and other shows including CBS' "Survivor."
Fox pronounced itself more than satisfied.
"X Factor" performed "within our expectations," said Mike Darnell, Fox's president of alternative entertainment. "The reality is there were crazy expectations out in the world. I don't know why it got that way. By any measure of success for television, it was a success."
The network certainly stoked anticipation with the heavily promoted show, and Cowell himself said his goal was to have TV's top-rated series.
But Fox touted the ratings earned for the two-hour debut, which was its highest-rated Wednesday night premiere in 16 years among total viewers (since "Melrose Place" and "Beverly Hills 90210" in 1995) and best among young adults in 13 years ("Beverly Hills 90210" and "Party of Five" in 1998).
Darnell also dismissed comparisons to "American Idol," Cowell's former home, which drew an audience of 26.2 million to its 10th-season opener in January.
"'Idol' is a phenomenon. ... This is a brand-new television show that needs to build an audience, and it had a very good start," he said.
However, "X Factor" only slightly bettered last spring's debut of "The Voice," an NBC singing contest that didn't have Cowell's clout behind it. It drew 11.78 million viewers.
"X Factor," with a judging panel that includes Cowell, his former "Idol" sparring partner Paula Abdul, Antonio "L.A." Reid and former Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger, was airing its second two-hour episode Thursday.
The show started out with high and low notes Wednesday, featuring some talented contestants along with a man who dropped his pants during his tryout and earned an "X" on-screen graphic across his apparently bare crotch.
Fox is a unit of News Corp.