- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

‘Idol’ showing cracks

Television’s May sweep starts today, but the networks aren’t exactly in a mad dash to reach the starting line, Variety notes.

Ratings are down for the hit shows that recently returned to action for the first time since the writers strike. They’re also off for some established reality series — and that list includes Fox’s “American Idol,” whose year-to-year declines have accelerated of late.

Certainly, “Idol” heads into the final month of the season as television’s biggest draw by a wide margin, but there are clear indications that the show has peaked and should expect to see mortallike ratings erosion in the years ahead.

When the work stoppage sidelined prime time’s biggest scripted hits this winter, most assumed it would be smooth sailing for Fox’s megahit singing competition — but that hasn’t been the case, Variety says. After defying the odds by improving the network’s ratings for four straight years, “Idol” is headed for a second season of declines, with this year’s falloffs more pronounced. The “American Idol” audience profile continues to change, too, as more of its viewers age out of the 18-to-49 bracket at the same time that the show struggles to add younger viewers.

“This is not a show that’s broken,” insists Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman. “Its core audience has aged, but it’s following the pattern of evolution of every hit TV show to last this long.”

Yet Nielsen data through last week shows that installments of “A.I.” on its regular Tuesday and Wednesday nights are averaging 28.9 million viewers — down 8 percent from the 31.3 million it was pulling in a year ago at this point.

Though this isn’t a bad year-to-year drop-off for a six-year-old show, a closer look at key demographics paints a somewhat more ominous trend. “Idol” has declined by a slightly bigger 10 percent in the adults 18 to 49 demographic and a troubling 15 percent in adults 18 to 34. It’s also off by 12 percent in teens 12 to 17 and by a whopping 20 percent among youngsters ages 2 to 11.

Excluding its debut season in summer 2002, this year’s seventh edition of “Idol” is tracking to post the show’s lowest average rating in teenagers 12 to 17 and adults 18 to 34, and its second-lowest in children 2 to 11. It’s holding up better in older categories: This season still could finish as the show’s third best in adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 and its best among viewers 50 and older — where “Idol” is roughly flat this year compared to last season.

The median age of the “American Idol” viewer has grown from 40.1 last year to 42 this year. It has risen with each annual edition since 2002, when half of its audience was younger than 32, Variety says.

An Emmy for hosts

After nearly a decade, reality-show hosts finally are getting a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t from the Emmys.

A category recognizing “outstanding host for a reality or reality-competition program” was created by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and will be presented at the 60th annual Emmys in September, Associated Press reports. That means that show hosts such as Ryan Seacrest, Howie Mandel and Tyra Banks are eligible for the coveted prize.

The award recognizes that reality TV has become “an integral part of television and our culture,” said John Shaffner, chairman and CEO of the TV academy, in a statement announcing the new honor.

Bynum tells all on TV

In a two-part episode of “Divorce Court,” Juanita Bynum says that she’s through with her marriage to minister Thomas W. Weeks III, who is on probation for assaulting her.

During the shows, scheduled to air today and tomorrow (1 p.m., Fox5-WTTG), the prominent televangelist also says she had thoughts of suicide. In a transcript of the show obtained by AP, Miss Bynum says she would always love Mr. Weeks but made a decision to “love me more.”

“I was just trying to make it work because I don’t like losing relationships,” Miss Bynum tells Judge Lynn Toler, who hears cases on the syndicated show.

Mr. Weeks pleaded guilty in March to assaulting Miss Bynum on Aug. 21 in a hotel parking lot outside of Atlanta; police said Miss Bynum told investigators he choked her, pushed her down and kicked and stomped her. She filed for divorce a month after the attack.

King stays put at CNN

Larry King has signed a contract extension with CNN that keeps him at the network through 2010, says TVGuide.com, citing a report by TVNewser.com.

CNN did not comment on the specific terms of the contract, namely whether it includes Mr. King, 74, continuing as host of “Larry King Live” (weeknights at 9) through 2010. It has been speculated recently that CBS anchor Katie Couric may be eyeing a move to CNN to host the interview show if she were to leave her post on “The CBS Evening News.” Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports.

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