‘X Factor’ eclipsed by comedies

September 29, 2011

Simon Cowell told the Hollywood Reporter back in August that an audience of less than 20 million for the launch of his “X Factor” would be a flat-out “disappointment.”

Turns out, “X Factor” — which Simon wants to displace his old program, “American Idol,” as the biggest show on TV — attracted 11.9 million viewers Wednesday night as it began its second week on the air. And a week earlier, Simon’s new singing-competition series averaged 12.5 million viewers.

Instead of the whole country talking about “The X Factor” — as they do in England, as Simon has assured us — the show has been eclipsed by this new TV season’s Big Story: “comedy.”

ABC’s Emmy-winning “Modern Family” once again beat “The X Factor” on Wednesday night, attracting not only a bigger crowd — 13.5 million viewers — but also outstripping the singing competition among the younger, 18- to 49-year-old viewers both shows target.

“Modern Family” also enjoyed its best-ever ratings among women between the ages of 18 and 34. That group is supposed to be “The X Factor’s” sweet spot.

As further evidence that “The X Factor” has so not sucked up all the available air on Wednesday nights: ABC managed — in the teeth of Simon’s new show — to bag its biggest comedy premiere at 8:30 p.m. in eight years. The unveiling of its sitcom “Suburgatory” — about a teenage girl dragged from New York City to the suburbs by her single dad — attracted 10 million viewers, or about 1 million more people than its lead-in, “The Middle.”

That is a major accomplishment opposite the singing competition that was supposed to be this fall’s phenomenon.

In the days leading up to “The X Factor” launch, Simon, the former “Idol” producer/judge, said he was not competing “for the silver or the bronze.” On Wednesday, his “X Factor” did just that, snaring the night’s third-biggest audience, behind ABC’s comedy series and the silver-winning CBS drama “Criminal Minds” (12.6 million viewers).

But Simon’s new super-slick singing series — in which he and celebrity judges Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger and L.A. Reid choose and mentor a crop of pop-singing hopefuls for us to vote on — has done a terrific job of getting Fox into the game during the fourth quarter, which has been a challenge for the network for years.

Thanks to an all-“X Factor” lineup, Fox did wind up with prime-time’s largest audience for the night, and the best rating among English-language broadcasters among the 18- to 49-year-olds.

It’s just not the phenomenon that Simon assured us to expect.

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