Commentary

The Road To Upfront Advertising Success Runs With Fox 'Idol'

Fox's "American Idol"--the country's No. 1-rated TV show--has now hit the wacky spot with American viewers, becoming an even higher rated show in its fifth season. This unthinkable craziness--should it continue--will be enough to put Fox in the driver's seat for the upfront advertising selling season that is only weeks away.

It wasn't supposed to go this way--even in the wildest imaginations for Fox executives. In 2005, Gail Berman, then president of entertainment of Fox, had anticipated a 10 percent decline in season four. That was natural and predictable for a reality show of its age. Instead it knocked everyone's singing socks off and went up 10 percent.

Just weeks ago, Peter Liguori, president of entertainment for Fox, surely figured this had to be the year--the show's fifth--to see some slack-off. Historically, five-year-old shows show slippage.

Nope. "Idol"'s ratings grew another head-scratching 15 percent.

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One competing network executive put it quite simply: "It's a nuclear bomb."

Keep the children inside and lock the doors. Young people shouldn't see such carnage. Particularly hard-hit has been ABC's "Commander in Chief," which is taking a break and will go off the schedule for a while, as it was already sinking. Good thing NBC pulled "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" out of harm's way on Tuesday: "Earl"'s name would be mud; "The Office" would be out of business.

"Idol"'s damage has now reached mythic proportions. One crazy rumor had it that "Idol" was the reason CBS and Warner Bros. decided to merge UPN and WB. A whole network merger... in two weeks? Probably not.

On more solid ground, "Idol"'s performance will give Fox possible leadership role in going into the upfront negotiations--traditionally given to the network that holds the most cards. It's the network that has improved the most during the season (read that as "underpriced") and therefore looks for its just rewards.

"Idol"'s got help. Fox's other now-regular January launch, "24," is also hitting its historical ratings highs, as well.

Still, it comes down to the team leader. Depending on how deranged "Idol" gets from here, Fox can then ask advertisers in June to get goofy in paying high price increases.

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