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American Idol judges, from left, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul, with host Ryan Seacrest. Wednesday night’s episode of the show drew in 36 million viewers.


REILLY’S LUCK: Few network executives make themselves the public face of their successes and failures like Kevin Reilly, the head of NBC Entertainment, and the man in charge of the company since its rather precipitous fall from number one status in 2004, when he succeeded Jeff Zucker in the job just as Friends finished its run, and NBC’s unassailable hold on Thursday night began to fall apart.

It’s been an agonizing claw back for Reilly and NBC, but its begun to pay off, and the network has come a long way from a year ago, when it looked to be taking up permanent residence in fourth place. Reilly can thank shows like Heroes and Deal Or No Deal, as well as his decision to stick with NBC’s adaptation of The Office to a U.S. setting.

“If you stick with quality, it pays off,” Reilly said at NBC’s session at the Television Critics Association convention in Pasadena this week. It’s the mantra he’s been using to justify his decision to let Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and Friday Night Lights remain on the schedule despite lacklustre ratings, and it actually seems like the truth, especially when Reilly isn’t referring to Joey.

Reilly told the mass of critics that the network intended to keep Scrubs going, despite rumours that this would be the last season, and announced some new shows and commissioned pilots, such as one based on the TV parody Nobody’s Watching, a YouTube sensation, which will get a half-hour primetime special in March. He also hinted that 30 Rock was likely to be renewed, and that the announcement would probably be made before the 2006-2007 season rolls to a finish in May.

Reilly sounded more than a bit defensive when the subject of American Idol came up, however. With football over, and Idol making its way through primetime like a supertanker in a wading pool, NBC’s gains could shrink by the time May rolls around, which probably prompted Reilly to muse aloud about a time without Idol.

“Not to be shitty about it,” Reilly was quoted as saying in the TVWeek.com blog, “but maybe they’ll have a bad run. Nothing burns that bright forever. Some day it will be uncool to watch American Idol.”

It’s sort of amazing to see a powerful insider like Reilly get something this wrong. There is nothing remotely cool about Idol. Anything this big — Wednesday night’s show pulled in an average of 36.86 million viewers — is never going to have a hint of the hip, select, or underground about it.

Even if it didn’t have such an enormous following of pre-cool tweens, a glance at the Idol wannabes and mega-fans who were showcased at the Minneapolis and Seattle auditions pretty much banishes the use of the words “Idol” and “cool” from being used in proximity forever. Reilly has to acknowledge his wishful thinking for what it is, and hope that NBC can get over the quality thing, and have an idea as wildly uncool as Idol.