American Idol is, for the first time, showing a little bit of Nielsen wear-and-tear. Though the show is still the biggest thing on TV, averaging about 29 million viewers per show, that figure is down 7 percent from last season. And the slippage gains significance when you consider that Idol this season has mostly aired against reruns and tepid reality shows thrown together to fill airtime emptied by the Hollywood writers' strike.
Executives at Fox, where the entire schedule is built around Idol, have taken note. The trade journal Broadcasting & Cable reported Monday that the network is circulating a marketing survey to viewers asking about potential changes to the show, including tinkering with the audition episodes, expanding -- or contracting -- the role of Ryan Seacrest, and of course just how much of Idol's bilious and/or airheaded judges anybody wants to see. For instance, viewers are asked how strongly they agree with the statement, "I watch American Idol mostly to hear what Paula has to say." More sensible might have been, "I watch American Idol mostly to see if Paula will pass out face-down in her 'Coke' cup." Or, "I want American Idol mostly to guess which contestant(s) Paul has slept with."