Despite slow start, ‘Idol’ threat looks menacing


WHAT WORKED: Moving “The OC” to Thursday nights was easily the gutsiest move made by any network this fall, and there are signs it’s paying dividends. While the sudser is clearly not generating as much heat in its new slot — ratings are noticeably down — Fox has at least dipped its toes into Thursday water. “The OC” is stealing young women from NBC’s “Joey.”

Fox’s speed in churning out fare in the reality wars also yielded modest results. Both “Nanny 911” and “Trading Spouses” earned respectable numbers and can be considered minor successes.

“House,” while struggling, is one of the most acclaimed dramas of the season, and deserves a chance to find its aud.

WHAT DIDN’T: Just about everything else.

Fox’s summer strategy still makes sense, but only if the shows are right. “The Jury” and “North Shore” just never caught on with viewers, while “Method & Red” suffered from a series of behind-the-scenes battles. “Quintuplets” did OK during the summer but cooled once the season began. Even established hits such as “The Simpsons” and “That ’70s Show” are off sharply this year.

Then there was Fox’s overload of reality skeins. “The Rebel Billionaire” was actually a good show, but auds yawned at what seemed to be a remake of “The Amazing Race” and “The Apprentice.” The sequel to “The Swan” pretty much sank, as did an overly complex home-renovation show called “The Complex,” and “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss.”

The jury’s still out on “Arrested Development,” which hasn’t been helped by the ratings downturn for “The Simpsons.” But the show is actually generating auds on par with other so-called sitcom hits, including CBS’ 8-9 p.m. Monday laffers.

WHAT’S AHEAD: “American Idol,” “American Idol” and still more “American Idol.” Fox has never needed the show as much as it does this season, and execs have to be praying viewers still care about the competish. Of course, even if the show loses 25% of its aud, it’ll still be a major hit — and one that Fox can air twice a week.

The sleeper of the season may be “Family Guy,” which returns from the dead with new episodes this spring. Repeats of years-old segs have generated solid ratings, indicating there’s a thirst for new episodes. Another show from the “Family Guy” team, “American Dad,” bows in late spring or early summer (unless Fox holds it back for next season).

Fox also brings back “24” for a fourth season, while “The Bernie Mac Show” might be able to do decent business when it returns Friday nights. New Friday drama “Jonny Zero” is a big unknown.

Expect plenty of unscripted fare from Fox, including the third season of “The Simple Life.” Big surprise could be “Hell’s Kitchen,” a remake of a Brit import that features a central character who makes Simon Cowell seem like a pussy cat.