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‘American Idol’ skates circles around Olympics

11 million more people than usual watched TV Thursday night
/ Source: The Associated Press

“American Idol” did a number again on the Olympics in terms of viewers Thursday, but the big winner from one of television’s most competitive nights in memory may be the viewers themselves.

With choices that included the culmination of the women’s figure-skating competition at the Olympics and three of television’s most popular nonfiction shows, an estimated 11 million more people watched TV than normally would on a Thursday night, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research estimates.

Roughly 25 million people watched the Olympics in prime time Thursday. That preliminary number does not include the 11 to midnight EST hour when the medal-winning skating performances were shown, so it is likely to increase.

Traditionally, women’s figure skating is the most popular winter Olympics event among TV viewers.

While no TV executive would dismiss something that draws that many viewers, it still remains that a once-every-four-years event had a smaller audience than a typical “American Idol” episode.

A special Thursday edition of “Idol” was seen by 23.1 million people between 8 and 9 p.m. EST — compared to 17.7 million for the Olympics, and 14.8 million each for “Survivor” and “Dancing With the Stars” in that hour, Nielsen said.

CBS’ “Survivor” was a competitive casualty; those preliminary numbers represent the smallest audience ever for an original episode of the long-running game, Nielsen said.

After “Idol” went off the air, the audience improved for both the Olympics and “Dancing With the Stars.” Overall, ABC’s “Dancing” had an audience of 17.7 million for its two-hour broadcast, Nielsen said.