‘X Factor’ Premiere Falls Short
It’s been an exhausting week for Fox’s reality chief Mike Darnell, who hasn’t slept much since the end of last week as he also oversaw the network’s Emmy telecast on Sunday. And he barely got some shut-eye last night, awaiting the ratings for the premiere of Simon Cowell’s The X Factor. They came in below most expectations: a 4.2 rating/12 share in adults 18-49 and 12.1 million viewers in the fast nationals, falling short of the January season premiere of American Idol (9.7/26, 21.6 million viewers in the fast nationals) as well as the April debut of NBC’s The Voice (5.1/13, 11.8 million) in the demo. (In the finals, X Factor is expected to go up 2 tenths to a 4.4 rating, though the other 2 shows also were adjusted up in the finals). Cowell had been talking about his goals of beating Idol in the ratings and averaging some 20 million viewers for The X Factor. Darnell dismisses that as “Simon’s showmanship, something you’ve got to love him for.” But “we lived with the reality that there is an enormous interest in every show during premiere week, and honestly, we’re just relieved this morning. Other than crazy expectations, this is a very good premiere.”

Darnell points to the fact that fall has been traditionally tough for Fox and that The X Factor delivered Fox’s best premiere Wednesday ratings in 18 years and was the network’s most-watched fall debut in five years. “If it stays close to a 4 (rating in 18-40) for the 40 hours it’s on the air, that would be amazing for us,” he said. He declined to address the higher premiere number for NBC’s upstart The Voice, but I hear Fox’s explanation is that, because of Idol, there is a built-in appetite for singing competitions in midseason that might have helped The Voice.

Judging by Idol‘s ratings trajectory, which usually dips on Night 2, as well as the tough premiere Thursday competition, Darnell expects X Factor‘s numbers to go down a bit tonight, but “next week it becomes a little easier” with no major premieres or hourlong Modern Family/The Big Bang Theory airing against the reality series. “Hopefully, like many reality shows do during their run, I think X Factor has a real shot at building (in the ratings).”

As for many viewers today giving booted judge Cheryl Cole thumbs-up over her replacement Nicole Scherzinger after seeing them both on the panel in the premiere episode, “it’s easy to love the one that’s gone, but Nicole is great too. Both are stunning but also very different,” Darnell said. Does he regret the decision to replace Cole with Scherzinger? “No regrets,” he said, adding, “but I also love Cheryl.”