Sometimes I wonder if this is even a fair fight. Because, increasingly in the second half of the primetime TV season, all the networks except Fox give viewers repeat after repeat after repeat ad nauseum and only occasionally a brief block of fresh programming. (Why can’t these suits comprehend that there’s nothing worse for audiences than following a series like Heroes or Ugly Betty or Criminal Minds and then realizing the DVR/Tivo has to wait weeks to record even one new episode. Ugh!) So it’s no surprise that news reports say Fox already has tied CBS for first place in the network ratings war. And given how American Idol is sizzling, Fox will end up #1 by the end of this week and for the entire 2006/2007 network primetime TV season. But how much is Fox winning, and how much are the other networks just blowing it? Year after year, Fox is stuck in fourth place and completely dysfunctional the first half of the season, then it goes on to bludgeon the other networks with just one non-repetitive series. I’m still waiting impatiently for the first network that’s innovative enough to reinvent its schedule to really go after Idol, or even capitalize on it, as opposed to just trying to imitate it or ignore it. Last night’s fast ratings included Idol’s Top 12 show: Fox scored a 17.0 rating/27 share for the night, better than the total of the other four networks. (CBS was the best of the rest at 6.2/10, followed by NBC at 4.8/8. ABC averaged 3.7/6 and The CW 1.5/2.) At 9 p.m. American Idol topped 31 million viewers for the hour. This is the first time in years that the presumptive season winner has taken the lead position this early. Fox and CBS have a 3.9 rating among adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen, with Fox on the verge of rounding up to a 4.0 with the next two nights of Idol. Among the runners-up, ABC has a 3.5, NBC has 3.4, Univision has a 1.6 and The CW a 1.3. During the past three years, the 18-to-49 race has been decided by a mere tenth of a rating point. Last year, the ABC and Fox went down to the last few days of the season, then Fox pulled out a victory. The last time the winning network took the season-to-date lead this early was in 2003/2004, when NBC was still powered by hits like the final season of Friends. As for NBC, it’s now mired in 4th place: that’s a good reason to have promoted Jeff Zucker.