ABDUL JACKSON COWELL
Nick Ut  /  AP
Despite the popularity of “American Idol,” the intrigue of reality television shows is wearing off, CNBC's Jerry Cobb reports.
By Jerry Cobb Reporter
CNBC
updated 1/21/2005 1:29:20 PM ET 2005-01-21T18:29:20

The television hit show “American Idol” kicked off its fourth season this week with the biggest prime time audience of the season. It’s a stunning reversal of fortune for Fox, which now has a shot at moving from fourth place to first in the ratings race.

“Fox is coming off a pretty rough fall and they really needed this hit,” said Michael Schneider, TV editor at Variety. “It's really the kind of juice the network needed to get back on its feet.”

All this “Idol” worship comes after a slew of failed Fox reality shows this season, including “Who's Your Daddy?,” “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss,” “The Next Great Champ” and “The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best.”

“The Fox Network has already descended into somewhat of a mild make-good situation with advertisers due to the underperformance of the bulk of their prime-time schedule since the start of September,” said David Miller, who follows the TV industry at the investment firm Sanders Morris Harris

Reality wreckage isn't limited to Fox. CBS cancelled “The Will” after a single episode. Even stalwarts like NBC's “The Apprentice” and ABC's “The Bachelorette” on ABC have seen dips in audience ratings. But the reality genre is far from dead. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

“I do not think that the bloom is off the reality rose at all,” said Karen McCallum, a media buyer at McKee Wallwork Henderson Advertising. “Really: every network has a couple of really solid reality performers in addition to scripted programming, so this really turning out to be a more balanced year.”

“American Idol” is expected to face some serious competition in March, when NBC launches its real life boxing series “The Contender.” But the runaway success of scripted shows like ABC's “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” means more comedies and dramas are going to start showing up on all the major networks.

“Whenever there's a big hit you see a dozen copycats,” said Schneider. “So we'll see quite a few shows attempt to sort of recapture that success next year. Whether or not they work it's still too soon to tell. But the networks are definitely trying to get back into the scripted game in a big way.”

While scripted shows are expected to make a comeback, even the worst reality shows will never die — they'll just reappear on cable, when Fox launches an all-reality digital cable channel this summer.

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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