Ratings battle: 'American Idol' reboot beats O.J. Simpson interview

'Idol' saw about 6 million more viewers

By JILL DISIS AND BRIAN LOWRY
Fox via CNN

It took 12 years for the tapes to surface, but television audiences were able to finally hear what Fox billed as O.J. Simpson's "shocking hypothetical account" of the 1994 murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) - Not even a "lost" interview with O.J. Simpson could help Fox beat ABC's "American Idol" reboot.

"Idol" drew about 10.3 million viewers during its Sunday night premiere on ABC, according to preliminary ratings data. ABC brought the show back to air two years after its final season on Fox.

Fox countered the "Idol" revival with its own ratings stunt: A dramatic, two-hour interview special called "O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession?"

The program, which featured material from a 12-year-old interview with Simpson that the network had not aired before, attracted 4.4 million viewers. During the interview Simpson is asked to speculate about "what might have happened" when his ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman were killed in 1994. Simpson was famously acquitted of the murders, but he was found responsible for their deaths in a subsequent civil suit.

Although Fox has said that the "lost" interview tapes were only recently discovered, its decision to broadcast the special directly opposite "Idol" brought the rivalry between the networks into sharp relief.

The once-iconic singing competition debuted in 2002 and ran on that network until April 2016. Fox canceled the show, and ABC announced that it would reboot "American Idol" a year later.

Its return Sunday came with a lot of the original elements — host Ryan Seacrest, auditions in cities around the United State — along with a new slate of celebrity judges: Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie.

Fox said shortly after ABC's announcement last May that it wanted to eventually broadcast more seasons of "Idol." But the Fox version would have delayed its return until 2020, a contingency which was rejected by the show's producer, FremantleMedia.

Fox Television Group CEO Dana Walden said at the time that "it feels bad knowing it's coming back on another network."

"It felt to us that it would be extremely fraudulent to bring the show back so quickly -- that our fans would not appreciate being told one thing and then have the show brought it back right away," Walden added. "We and Fremantle just had very different points of view."

While "Idol's" ratings Sunday helped it best its most high-profile competition, the show didn't manage to overtake its own twilight years at Fox.

The final season premiere of Fox's version in January 2016 was watched by nearly 11 million people. At the height of the show's success in 2007, about 37.4 million people watched the season premiere.

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