In Depth

Fox Rules in Realm of Reality

Despite Ratings Slump, ‘American Idol’s’ Still Going Strong With Viewers and Critics Alike

Fox owns the best and worst of reality, according to critics, as “American Idol” and “Moment of Truth” topped the reality lists of critics participating in TelevisionWeek’s summer 2008 poll.

News reports on “Idol’s” latest season weren’t the greatest, focusing mainly on relatively cooler ratings and rumors of retooling. However, the musical spectacle still trumped nearly everything else on television this year in terms of viewership.

“Flaws and all (Andrew Lloyd Webber, really?), this one still delivers the goods, and the audience. A rocker finally won, and people seemed to care,” wrote Matt Roush of TV Guide. “It’s about time.”

“Love it or hate it, brilliantly produced. And at least it’s about a positive talent, not like ‘Moment of Truth’ or ‘Big Brother.’ But fer Simon’s sake, please get some more interesting—and younger—mentor artists,” wrote MeeVee.com’s Joel Brown.

Other reality heavyweights ruled the five best list, as CBS’ “Survivor,” Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Project Runway” (soon to be Lifetime’s) and ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” took honors. The only real newbie to the list is PBS’ “Carrier,” which tied in the No. 10 spot with CBS’ “The Amazing Race.”

“Carrier” followed the six-month deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier in 2005 and aired in April.
Over on the worst side of things, critics’ passionate dislike of “Moment of Truth” allowed it to capture not only the title of worst reality show but also the worst show overall—a testament to the show’s cringe-worthy premise of airing personal secrets on national television for money.

“We still don’t know how low this show will go to demean human beings and destroy relationships,” wrote Tom Jicha of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “This is the worst in every category into which it can be fitted.”

However, the critical scorn couldn’t all be lumped on “Truth,” as critics ladled out dislike of The CW’s newcomer “Farmer Wants a Wife,” in second place, and CBS mainstay “Big Brother,” in third.

“Brother,” airing its 10th iteration this summer, jumped back into production quicker than usual as the writers strike left networks scrambling to fill airtime slotted for scripted material.

“One of the great tragedies of the writers strike is that the world got an extra edition of this,” wrote Rick Kushman of the Sacramento Bee.

Tied for the No. 4 spot with MTV’s “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila,” CBS’ “Secret Talents of the Stars” aired only once, allowing audiences to see country singer’s Clint Black’s stand-up routine and actor George Takei’s country crooning. With its early cancellation, viewers were deprived of seeing Danny Bonaduce riding a unicycle.

“Are you kidding me?” asked Jacki Garfinkel of iVillage.com.

Newcomers to the realm of worst reality on television include two shows from E!, as “Denise Richards: It’s Complicated” and “Living Lohan” tied for eighth.

Critical bile boiled quickly, as those two shows debuted just three days after TVWeek’s poll was distributed to critics. However, they still managed to crack the top 10 ahead of critical duds such as NBC’s “My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad” and Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York City.”

“Complicated” follows Charlie Sheen’s former bride, Denise Richards, while “Living Lohan” chronicles the Lohan brood (sans Lindsay) grooming Ali Lohan for a record launch.

“Living Lohan” is “like watching one of those scary movies in drivers ed, before the crash,” wrote Ellen Gray of the Philadelphia Daily News.