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JAN
20
4 YEARS

Gervais' Free Publicity, 'Idol' Implosion, 'Skins' Faux Controversy, NBC And Pompous Piers

The Bastard Machine decides to quash the hype but also show a little love. A very little love.

There may  not be a bigger fan of Ricky Gervais than yours truly, but even I can't read anymore about him. Well, I can read the things he's saying which are, undeniably, the right things. In short - you got what you asked for when you hired me, I had a blast and wouldn't have changed a thing and, kinda-sorta -- piss off about it.

Otherwise, the Gervais-a-thon of headlines is getting to be too much. We're as guilty as anybody right here at THR, but how can we stop ourselves if you won't stop clicking? On the other hand, you have to know that Gervais is on the phone with Stephen Merchant having a laugh at it all. "Can you believe that they're still talking about it? It's mental."

So, fine by me. Get all the ink you can get -- it's part of the fame game. But I promise not to say another word about Gervais until...oh, wait, I'm reviewing An Idiot Abroad for tomorrow. Never mind. (And yes, it's fantastic.)

Somewhere, Simon Cowell is laughing. Because he was right. And he's right a lot. And it makes him feel smug. And in this particular case, he has a right to be. Cowell jumped off the American Idol bandwagon at the right time (as soon as he could hear the axle grinding). It's still the Death Star, but we all know what happened to that in the end. An 18 percent drop in the demo? A 13 percent drop in total viewers? On the first night? After all that hype? That is not good, people. Not good. And here's why: The curiosity factor no doubt drove that number up and new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez added leering and  uncertainty, in that order, to the night's proceedings. And then there's Randy Jackson.Think way, way back to the early years of Idol and ask yourself if you ever envisioned Randy Jackson as the last man standing. 

It's hard to imagine how Idol, already on a downward spiral both in ratings and in relevance, rights this ship. One of the biggest factors for success - beyond Cowell, whether ordinary Americans admit that or not -- is that this is family show. There are not very many shows people can watch together as a family. And if Tyler continues to love the ladies -- especially the young ladies -- it'll be a little like inviting your creepy uncle over to the house for dinner twice a week. Then there's J-Lo, who looked a lot like Ellen DeGeneres from the live episodes. If Lopez can't get her act together -- or figure out exactly what her act is, how in the world is she supposed to help carry the show when it moves out of diapers after all these taped shows? Lastly, be careful what you wish for. Many critics of Idol wanted it to be nicer. Let's see how long nice plays in primetime, when these hosts enable and pamper contestants who don't deserve it.

Idol better hope there are a number of gems yet to be found among the performers. Because ultimately they will drive the success of the show. But if you leave it in the hands of this revamped panel alone, you're asking for trouble. Last night America got its curiosity fix. Let's see how many come back for more. They might just find that Idol is missing the X Factor.

Over at MTV, the masterminds of controversy have struck again. The channel's so-far-verbatim remake of Skins is pretty woeful. It's cloying and annoying and it makes you want to slap everybody involved with it (and yet, not surprisingly, it's a hit with 3.3 million viewers). Hell, the original made a lot of people annoyed  and it was at least, well, original. The U.S. version of Skins -- and honestly, you're out of the demo so you shouldn't care, unless you want to leer like Steven Tyler -- just got a free gift. And that gift is controversy over whether the content will cross the line into child pornography, awakening the Feds to -- gasp! -- smut on MTV. Of course, this came about from a New York Times article with unnamed sources inside MTV wringing their hands about crossing the line. Maybe they really are worried. Or maybe they were hoping for 6 million instead of 3.3 million. What better way to reach the youth of America than to say, oh my, future episodes have so much nudity and drugs and alcohol and nudity and sex and did we say nudity, that we are very worried the show might be so controversial the government gets involved. Oh, and porn, porn, porn. Boy, that's handy. The call was coming from inside the house. Maybe next season AMC will try something similar to boost the ratings of Mad Men. "We'd like to announce we're a tad bit worried that our first episode, which shows January Jones' bush a lot and Jon Hamm's perfectly round butt like a hundred times, may have crossed the line."

In network news, it looks like the last hurdles are being jumped in Comcast's bid to buy that gigantic fixer-upper known as NBC. Apparently the FCC and the government finally figured out that letting Kabletown buy the fourth-rated broadcast network and a bunch of far-more successful cable channels (and a theme park, right?) would not, as expected, cause the world to implode. In my mind I just picture Robert Greenblatt walking in the doors and having that look on his face. That one that says, "I had no idea it was this bad. Did a bomb go off in here?" Actually, a lot of bombs went off in there, but Greenblatt could be a miracle worker at the Peacock. Provided he's given time to turn it around (or, if you prefer, dredge up the remains from the sea floor). And a little help from FEMA wouldn't be all that bad.

Lastly, this has been a big week for Piers Morgan. He may be pompous, he may be less revolutionary than he advertised, but at least he's had a stellar week of guests. Tonight - more free hype for Gervais! Next week - not so much quality. Though Morgan has been savvy enough to make a list of people who are already banned from the show - now there's instant free press -- and he's still talking like he's the new heavyweight champion of the world, the coming weeks will be his truest test. He'll know then whether he's too arrogant for America (that's actually not a bad slogan, Piers) and whether people will want to see him talk to Kid Rock and some Kardashians.

Email Tim Goodman at Tim.Goodman@THR.com