Q&A: Hits keep coming for reality guru Darnell

Thu May 8, 2008 2:00am EDT
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By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Fox president of alternative entertainment Mike Darnell is responsible for some of the most vilified reality series ever created -- "The Swan," "Married by America," "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" and "Temptation Island."

Yet members of Hollywood's creative community routinely describe him, without blinking, as a genius. This past year, it's been easy to see why: Darnell's track record for creating successful unscripted titles during a difficult period for freshman broadcast series has been nearly perfect. He's launched "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," "Don't Forget the Lyrics," "Kitchen Nightmares" and the season's highest-rated new show, "The Moment of Truth."

Darnell spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the ratings decline of "American Idol"; the one series he wishes didn't air; and his best idea that you've never seen.

Q: You're known for creating catchy titles. What do you look for?

Mike Darnell: Something simple that grabs you. In the best cases, the title itself is enough to drive you to view the show with no footage and no promo. When we did "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," I think people would have watched based on title alone. Length doesn't matter -- I used to get in arguments about that all the time. All that matters is that it says what it is.

Q: Your competitors have invested in celebrity reality series. Are you interested in that genre for Fox?

Darnell: Not much. The celebrity thing works when the content is grand and fits with the idea of celebrities. So ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" is perfect. I knew CBS' "Secret Talents of the Stars" was going to die because it's a bad concept and no one cares. Also, VH1 does it better than most, and they can go farther than most. So I think it's fruitless to keep going down that road.

Q: Is "American Idol" unavoidably on the other side of its ratings peak?   Continued...