Ryan Seacrest Is No. 1 on THR's Reality Power List
An uninspired ninth season of American Idol -- with its lackluster judges panel, ratings dive and looming departure of Simon Cowell -- was certain to give way to a disastrous 10th. Or so the conventional wisdom went. Under Mike Darnell's imperturbable leadership, Idol has retained its perch as TV's No. 1 entertainment show, continued to command TV's top ad rates (about $7 million every half-hour) and -- call it the "J.Lo Effect" -- reinvigorated America's love affair with the format. "Honestly, I thought I woke up in a dream," Darnell says of Idol's zeitgeisty 10th installment. "I thought this was going to be a hard year no matter what. But it's exceeded everybody's expectations. It's back on track." Idol is only one of a half-dozen shows Darnell oversees for Fox, including So You Think You Can Dance and three hours starring chef Gordon Ramsay: Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares and MasterChef, last summer's No. 1 series debut. With the fall launch of what could be Darnell's next juggernaut -- Cowell's The X Factor -- he will have put more than 200 hours of reality television on the air in 2011. "It's hectic," the Los Angeles-based exec says of his superhuman workload. "I do most of my phone calls from the car. And I'm generally late for meetings."