tv reporter

'Idol' and Tiger a lot alike, only sometimes he loses

In a memorable line from the classic British sitcom "Fawlty Towers," Maj. Gowen walks by John Cleese's Basil in the hotel lobby and says, "I see Hampshire won." "Did it, Major?" Basil replies with complete apathy.

That's pretty much how conversations between TV executives go every Wednesday and Thursday morning.

"I see 'American Idol' won," one says matter-of-factly. "Did it?" the other replies mechanically.

For a sixth straight year, the Fox juggernaut is taking race out of the ratings race, dominating the TV landscape and obliterating everything in its path.

NBC used to refer to it as the Death Star.

CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves recently called it "a monster."

"It's a national phenomenon, and it continues to do extremely well," he said in a keynote interview this month. "It's tough to compete with it."

Professional golfers know the feeling: Their sport is dominated by Tiger Woods the way "Idol" rules television.

"You know, it's tough to compete against a guy like that; you shake your head at some of the things he does," golfer Steve Stricker said in September. "It's phenomenal, really."

The parallels don't end there.

In the same keynote interview, Moonves quipped about "Idol," "If somebody would kill that show, I'd really appreciate it."

Making a similar point about Tiger, Golf Channel's Nick Faldo in January jokingly suggested that "to take Tiger on, maybe (young players) should just gang up for a while." That prompted the infamous remark by his co-host Kelly Tilghman, "Lynch him in a back alley."

Just like with Tiger, there is a debate about whether "Idol's" dominance is good or bad for television.

They both take the intrigue out of their respective fields and dampen the morale of competitors on the golf course and in the nets' executive suites.

"Idol" supremacy on Tuesday and Wednesday has been so staggering that the other networks pretty much gave up putting scripted programming from 8-10 p.m. on those nights.

Last week, the only scripted offerings in the time period were CBS' "NCIS" and the CW's "One Tree Hill" on Tuesday and NBC's repurposed episodes of USA's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" on Wednesday.

On the positive side, Tiger's dominance has been a huge ratings draw and has turned golf from a pastime for the privileged to a mainstream sport attracting millions of new fans.

In the case of "Idol," its mind-boggling success has proved that in the era of TiVo and Internet streaming, television still can be appointment viewing.

In a sports column, an expert listed the following tips for beating Tiger: 1. Stay focused on your game. 2. Raise your game.

No matter how disheartening it is to see "Idol" steamrolling over your shows, that's what the other networks should do.

For inspiration, they can look at what happened to tennis champ Roger Federer, who often is compared to Tiger. Just like Tiger, he had dominated his sport for the past few years and was considered invincible until his streak of 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals ended at the Australian Open in January.

Every ratings winning streak eventually comes to an end too.

There are some small cracks already. "Idol" is down 10% from last season.

In Britain, "Pop Idol" was eclipsed by Simon Cowell's "X Factor." In signing Cowell to a multimillion-dollar contract 21/2 years ago, Fox made sure that format will not be a factor against "Idol" in the U.S.

But inevitably, something else will come along.

With the tremendous popularity of British comedy formats in the U.S. these days, who knows — it could be a descendent of "Fawlty Towers" that topples what might be television's last "monster" hit.
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