August 6, 2007 5:54 PM
Ever have a really tough decision where you’re choosing between two equally promising options that will significantly impact every aspect of your life?
Now imagine your decision involves choosing between major entertainment companies and the media is watching (and, naturally, judging) your every move.
That’s how Mike Darnell has spent the past few months as he’s tried to decide whether to remain reality chief at Fox or accept a lucrative production deal at NBC. In the end, he made the decision most everybody expected him to make. He’s relieved and happy, but exhausted.
“There have been so many restless nights,” he says. “It just makes you insane. I’ve actually had a very good summer [in terms of Fox’s reality ratings], but I haven’t been able to enjoy it.”
Making the decision leaves Darnell free to shift his attention back to seeking the next reality trend. Though it may seem as if Fox’s reality programs have mellowed and matured—with family friendly musical reality shows replacing the more sensationalistic stunts of the “Man vs. Beast” and “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire”—Darnel insists his tastes are unchanged.
“I have a lot of creative instincts, but I’m a businessman,” he says. “I will go with whatever is working at the time. It’s not my taste, it’s the public’s taste. You have to be smart enough to know when the public’s preference begins, and when it ends, and that’s what’s key to making this job work.”
Darnell sees the current quiz show trend cycling down, and dating shows cycling back up—despite NBC’s recent struggle with “Age of Love.”
“It has to be something really new and an enormous hook,” he says. “You can’t just do ‘Bachelor No. 50’ and do it with older woman and young woman—I knew that wasn’t going to work as soon as I heard it.” (Yes, once Darnell chooses Fox over NBC, he firmly chooses).
Another trend somewhat impacting Darnell’s department is News Corp.’s company-wide mandate to promote environmentalism. The Emmy Awards on Fox will have a green theme. The season finale of “American Idol” was “carbon neutral.” But can you imagine an earnest, pro-environment reality series on Fox?
Neither can Darnell. “Nah, not planning anything,” he says.