Many television industry insiders - including Fox's own network president Gail Berman -- had doubted whether American Idol could continue its monster ratings numbers as the now "maturing" show entered its fourth season. Well, if the preliminary ratings numbers for last night's special two-hour Idol debut are any indication, the fourth season will not only match the ratings highs of last year's American Idol 3, but may very well even exceed them.

According to Nielsen Media Research preliminary fast national ratings, yesterday's American Idol 4 premiere was the most-watched television program -- including all sports broadcasts -- of the 2004-2005 television season among both total viewers and the all-important Adults 18-49 demographic.

American Idol 4 premiered to a phenomenal 33.5 million viewers and a 14.0/33 rating/share among Adults 18-49 -- the second highest numbers that the program has ever drawn in these measures, trailing only American Idol 2's Ruben Studdard versus Clay Aiken season finale.

"We can expect to see some [ratings] declines," Berman had told reporters gathered at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Monday. "I think that's only natural for a fourth-year show."

"What surprised me last year, its third year, was that its audience grew. We certainly don't expect to see that this year," she added.

Defying Fox's expectations, compared to last year's then-record setting premiere, American Idol 4 opened up another 9% in Adults 18-49 (14.0/33 vs. 12.9/30 on Monday, January 19, 2004), 16% in total viewers (33.5 million vs. 29.0 million), 4% in Adults 18-34 (14.3/37 vs. 13.7/36), and 7% in Teens (14.6/39 vs. 13.6/36)..

The broadcast ranks as FOX's third most watched night of entertainment programming EVER (behind its Joe Millionaire finale on February 17, 2003 and the second season finale of Idol on May 21, 2003.) It also allowed Fox to swamp the five other broadcast networks, outperforming the combined total primetime performance of the five other networks in both viewers (33.5 million vs. 30.0 million) and Adults 18-49 (14.0 vs. 11.8)