U.S. jury still out on Brit’s hits

Cowell's Syco shingle's got 'Talent,' but no Nielsen landslide

Consider Simon Cowell the Chris Daughtry of reality show producers.

Daughtry performed decently as an “American Idol” contestant last season and had his rabid fans, but came up short when competing for the top prize.

Similarly, Cowell is the force behind at least two decent ratings performers in the U.S. But none of Cowell’s projects can be deemed Nielsen Idols, at least not yet.

Launching in the midst of a tough summer — in which new reality entries were mostly massacred — NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” performed well enough to score a second-season pickup. But while the show was a solid player, it was by no means a breakout smash.

Ditto ABC’s “American Inventor,” which started out strong but settled in at just OK numbers as the season progressed. (“Inventor” also landed a second-year order.)

Two more shows — CBS’ “Cupid” and Fox’s “Celebrity Duets” — didn’t make much of an impression with auds.

Despite those tepid ratings, don’t count out Cowell just yet.

In the three years since he set up his Syco TV label — a TV production company he launched with BMG — Cowell landed four skeins on the air, a respectable track record for any upstart shingle.

And Cowell is already a hugely successful TV producer in the U.K., thanks to his megasmash “The X-Factor.” That talent contest did so well on ITV1 that it eventually replaced the original “Pop Idol.”

Then there’s “American Idol” itself. Cowell is considered one of the key reasons why “Idol” is such a success, given his role both in front and behind the camera.

“He knows this world, the talent competition world, like no one else,” says NBC alternative programming senior VP Craig Plestis.

And if Cowell is famous for his skills as a commanding judge on camera, Plestis says the producer is even more intense when overseeing his own wares.

“He’s a perfectionist,” says Plestis. “He will keep tweaking and working with something as best as he can make it. It’s something that I admire.”

Cowell’s larger-than-life persona aside, Plestis says he sees the “America’s Got Talent” exec producer as just that — a producer.

“He’s actually very comfortable being behind the scenes and tweaking and molding the process,” Plestis says. “He cracked that nut in how to do a variety show with a YouTube feel.”

Of course, Plestis would put Cowell onscreen in a second if he could, but contractually he can’t. Nonetheless, when it comes time to promote “Talent,” Cowell’s fame as an “Idol” judge doesn’t hurt.

“We look at him as talent when doing the marketing,” Plestis says. “When you have Simon Cowell and do a press conference, everyone shows up.”

Cowell is already at work on the second cycles of “Talent” and “Inventor,” both of which will return in 2007.

And while “X-Factor” hasn’t yet made it to this side of the Pond, a U.S. version would seem to be inevitable.

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