Lythgoe, Darnell spar at BAFTA panel

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Fox's reality guru Mike Darnell and "American Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe sparred at a lively panel discussion Thursday night about Britain's role in the reality boom on American television.

At the BAFTA event entitled "Another British Invasion," hosted by BAFTA and CAA, the two fired several back-and-forth zingers good enough to land them their own improv show.

"He's either a brilliant programmer or an evil genius bent on hastening the end of civilization as we know it," Lythgoe, who moderated the panel, said in introducing Darnell.

"The latter," Darnell chimed in.

On another instance, Lythgoe turned to Darnell: "You've been a great leader, and when you've not led, you've copied." The barb, which drew laughs from the audience, was a reference to Darnell's reputation for launching copycat shows of his competitors' hits.

"But I've led the copying," Darnell replied.

And when Lythgoe, who serves as judge on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," asked what Americans like about British on-air talent, Darnell was quick to note, "Not much, Nigel."

On a more serious note, the panel that included WMA's Mark Itkin, CAA's Michael Camacho and CBS" Ghen Maynard, agreed that there is a lot to like about British presenters hosting U.S reality series.

"They add for American audiences elegance to the show that doesn't have elegance to it," Darnell said. "A British accent gives a show a credibility, it just adds a sense of grace."

During the discussion, Darnell dispelled as a "myth" the popular notion that Fox didn't pick up "American Idol" until News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch and his daughter Elizabeth got involved.

According to Darnell, by the time the Murdochs intervened, "Idol" had already been picked up after an impressive pitch by creator Simon Fuller.

Darnell admitted he had been a fan of the two previous attempts, both failed, to launch a singing reality competition in the U.S., the WB's Popstars" and ABC's "making the Band."

"I liked both of them for 2-3 weeks, but when the auditions were over, they became very girly, with all the contestants living together," Darnell said. "What Simon was pitching was one big long audition, and I liked that."

Answering a question from the audience about the reasons for the demise of Fox's "Apprentice" knock-off "The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest For the Best," Darnell took a snipe at NBC's reality show starring Donald Trump.

"It turned out 'The Apprentice' was not a format we could copy," he said. "The format was a one-time only format."

Darnell had some more bad news for Trump, who holds the rights to several beauty pageants, including Miss USA.

"Beauty Pageants in their traditional form are dead," Darnell said.

As for the reality genre overall, it "has grown up, and just like drama and comedy series, some of it is going to be crap."

Added Lifetime president and CEO and former ABC reality maven Andrea Wong, "As a mature genre, reality is vulnerable to the same creative valleys that comedy and drama go through, and I think (reality) is entering one right now."

As for the long run, "The future (of the reality genre) is cheery but unknown," said leading reality TV attorney Jeanne Newman.
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