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.”

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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.