Fox's Top Reality Exec Mike Darnell to Depart Amid Major American Idol Overhaul

Jennifer-Lopez-Pitbull-American-Idol-FinaleIt looks like American Idol‘s summer makeover is only the first step in a larger shakeup of Fox‘s reality-programming lineup. Longtime reality chief Mike Darnell is stepping down after 18 years on the job, the network announced today.

“I’m extremely grateful that Fox has offered me a new long term contract (and anyone who knows me won’t believe I’m saying this), but I’ve decided it’s time for a change,” said Darnell, in a release. “With my current deal ending in June, and having been here for 18 years (kind of a record in Hollywood), I had to make a decision: either stay (and basically admit to myself I was going to retire at Fox…not a terrible choice) or leave and try something new. I’ve been in ‘Reality’ since before it was even called that, and it has truly been an amazing ride. However, the world has changed drastically over the last few years and now with hundreds of channels and limitless ways to watch television, I’ve decided this was the perfect time to take advantage of the rapidly changing marketplace.”

RELATED | American Idol Mulling All-Alumni Judges’ Panel — Crazy-Good or Just Crazy?

Darnell joined FOX in 1994 as Director of Specials after working for eight years at the network’s Los Angeles affiliate KTTV and the Fox Television Station Group. He oversaw the creation of “tens of thousands of hours of television,” according to Fox, including such hits as Idol, Family Guy, The X Factor, So You Think You Can Dance, MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, Furutrama, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?, Nanny 911, Don’t Forget the Lyrics! and Trading Spouses.

Other high/low points (depending on your outlook) during Darnell’s tenure included Temptation Island, Joe Millionaire, The Simple Life, The Swan, Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, Man vs. Beast, When Animals Attack! and Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed.

Darnell’s departure comes at a critical juncture for the network’s golden goose, American Idol; the show’s Season 12 finale drew 14.3 million total viewers and a 3.6 demo rating, down 33 and 44 percent from Season 11’s coronation night, and the first time ever that an Idol finale failed to deliver 20 million viewers.

Multiple media outlets have reported that Idol is mulling a plan to replace its entire Season 12 judging panel with former contestants-turned-music stars, including Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson and either Adam Lambert or Clay Aiken. (The Hollywood Reporter, however, put the kibosh on the Clarkson rumors in an article earlier today.)

Fox’s latest reality launch, Does Someone Have to Go?, premiered last night with an audience of 3.1 mil and 1.3 demo rating, good enough to win its 9 o’clock time slot while shedding some 40 percent of its Hell’s Kitchen lead-in.

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  1. james says:


  2. Teeny Bikini says:

    Great. Clean house. This is a step in the right direction… Hopefully, it will trickle down to AI. Fingers crossed.

  3. Jake says:

    The guy has opened the whole reality market in the usa… CEO of TLC would be his thing…

  4. Brooke says:

    I guess that answers Mike Darnell’s question about whether someone has to go…

  5. Brian says:

    Long gone are the days where 33 million people watch the Joe Millionaire finale.

    • deedee says:

      Long gone are the days when 33 million people do anything together at the same time. Too many options, and everything is so fractured.
      Do we have news about Nigel? A lot of people want to see him gone, but I hope he sticks around. In fact, I hope Fox gives him a bit more control than they did this season. The stupid decisions that went on all season did not have Nigel’s hand-print on them (well, except maybe Burt Bacharach week ;) ).

  6. Mark says:

    He’s who we have to thank for some of the trashiest reality tv programs. Good riddance.

  7. Next, “Bye, bye, Nigel!” :)

  8. Et al. says:

    Yesterday I joked he had to go in the ‘Does Someone Have To Go?’ story. I must wield more power than I realized! Hey Fox, bring back Wonderfalls and Firefly NOW.

  9. lyn says:

    If there’s any truth to them using alums as judges, I hope they go with Adam rather than Clay. I love Clay and have seen him in concert several times. But IMO Adam has broader musical knowledge, is a songwriter, has more charisma and would honestly give better feedback.

  10. mia says:

    He’s really had a huge influence on the genre; one of the first voices to begin ‘reality tv’
    I’ll be interested to see where he goes next and how he jumps into the new technologies.

  11. JJ says:

    Adding former Idol stars to the judging panel will do absolutely nothing to the ratings. Fox, just enjoy the fact that people still care and watch Idol to begin with.

    • Name That Tune says:

      The mistake is thinking that ratings have anything to do with who is watching the show . Advertisers care about who is watching the commercials. Viewers can skip the commercials quite easily. Perhaps the Number of people watching the show is higher than we know, but Nielson reports who watches commercials. Personally, I rarely watch TV the traditional way, and I rarely watch commercials. I saw most of Season 12 on the Internet which allowed me to cut the commercials and all of the fillers. Nielson isn’t capturing me so the emphasis on ratings isn’t valuable.
      The challenge for the networks is to redesign their business model so they don’t lose good shows because of an antiquated ratings system.

  12. James A says:

    Joe Millionaire…I remember that show…good times! A show that could only be done once…

  13. mamamitzvah says:

    A new broom sweeps clean & honestly I am not sure bringing back AI alumni is the answer. I never thought I would say this, but I miss Simon. :(