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'Idol' ratings down from last year

Fox’s “American Idol” returned as the nation’s most popular TV series, but with 4 million fewer viewers than the 2007 season premiere. Tuesday’s debut was seen by 33.4 million viewers, down 11 percent from the 37.4 million who watched the first show, according to preliminary ratings by Nielsen Media Research. That still ranks as the most-watched show of the TV season, excluding sports. The previous high was the 25.4 million who saw the season premiere of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” on CBS in the fall. More people were watching Fox in those two hours than the combined audience for ABC, CBS, NBC and the CW.

It was a noticeably nicer “American Idol” after producers were criticized last year for meanness during the audition rounds of the talent contest.

Yet the ratings will be watched closely for signs of further erosion. There was a very slight decline in viewership last season compared to 2006.

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