'American Idol' vs. 'NCIS': It'll be close(ish)

idol-vs-ncis-320.jpgCome this time next week, it's very likely that we'll have a new No. 1 show on television. Because this time next week, "American Idol" will have premiered.

It's been a foregone conclusion for most of the past decade that when FOX's singing competition begins its season in January, every other show on TV is playing for second place in the ratings. That's probably how things will play out once the show's ninth season starts Tuesday (Jan. 12) -- but the season's No. 1 show so far won't exactly go away quietly.

That would be "NCIS," which as luck would have it is also a direct competitor with "Idol" at 8 o'clock ET Tuesday nights.

The CBS show has always been relatively "Idol"-proof, drawing a consistent audience regardless of what was airing against it. This season, however, has been its best ever: It draws an average of just under 20.6 million viewers per week. If it holds onto that audience into the spring, there could be some very interesting overnight ratings reports to peruse on Wednesday mornings.

I'm not going to be so bold as to predict "NCIS" will at some point beat "Idol" in a given week -- the numbers say that probably won't happen. The Tuesday "Idol" averaged 26.3 million viewers last year, down about 9 percent from 2008. Say for argument's sake that the show falls by the same amount this season: That would still leave it with just under 24 million viewers, a number "NCIS" hasn't quite reached yet.

But I also wouldn't be shocked if that were to happen, particularly if "Idol" doesn't put together an especially compelling group of contestants before the audience.

(I should also be clear that I'm only talking about total viewers here -- "American Idol" will still rule the adults 18-49 demographic on Tuesdays. "NCIS" draws a healthy 4.5 rating in the demo, but that's only 12th-best on broadcast TV this season.)

The first face-off on Tuesday will likely be a big win for "Idol" as its premiere tends to be among the most-watched episodes of the season. But keep an eye on the numbers farther down the line -- the numbers are likely to be as close as they've ever been.

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Photo credits: FOX, CBS
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