September 21, 2021

It’s Not ‘American Idol,’ but ‘The X Factor’ Has Its Audience

Ms. Worthington, of Bowling Green, Ky., disdains the newcomer’s emphasis on elaborate stage shows and arguments between the judges. “It takes away from the contestant’s voice,” Ms. Worthington said. While she said she would “always watch ‘American Idol,’ ” she is done with “The X Factor,” which had its debut in September and wraps up its first season on Dec. 22.

Ms. Le, of New York, tunes in to “X Factor” for the same reasons Ms. Worthington tunes out. “American Idol,” Ms. Le said, “is just old and tired.” She doubts she will watch the next season, which will begin on Jan. 18.

The ratings for “The X Factor,” the most-promoted new show of the fall television season, support the attitudes of Ms. Worthington and Ms. Le.

While many “Idol” viewers have sampled “The X Factor,” it is appealing to a distinct audience. And a smaller one: “The X Factor” is averaging 11 million to 12 million viewers this season, half as many as “Idol” averaged earlier this year and half as many as Simon Cowell, the “Idol” judge turned “X Factor” creator-producer-judge, had hoped. “Idol” is by far the biggest reality show in the United States.

Mr. Cowell has not been able to live down his assessment before the premiere that anything short of 20 million viewers would be a disappointment. He laughs now when he is asked about that target and says, “I wish it had started with a one rather than a two.”

And yet by almost any other standard, his show is a clear success. It is enormously lucrative. It has lifted Fox’s ratings on Wednesday and Thursday nights, making the network competitive in the fall for the first time in years.

In fact, Fox is tied with CBS for first place among adults 18 to 49 this fall, something that would have been unfathomable without the singing competition.

Perhaps the lesson is that in the ever-more-fragmented world of television, the marathon is more important than the high jump.

“The X Factor” was “given the unfortunate task of being compared to the biggest show on television, instead of being compared to all the other television shows,” said Mike Darnell, the president of alternative entertainment for Fox, who called the show a “very big success for us.”

Calling Mr. Cowell a “showman” who talked up the show “the way a fighter would,” Mr. Darnell added, “If he hadn’t hyped it as much as he did, maybe it wouldn’t be as big as it is.”

Still, the fact that “The X Factor” has not defied ratings gravity has pleased some of Fox’s competitors.

When the show came on in September, the trade magazine Broadcasting Cable quoted rival network executives as saying things like, “Thank God it’s not another Death Star” and “It’s good to see it’s mortal.” And because of the show’s lower-than-promised performance, Fox has given advertisers some extra ads to compensate for the high rates they paid for air time ahead of the premiere. (Fox says such ads, called “make goods,” are typical throughout the season.)

Fox, a unit of News Corporation, has been sensitive about the preshow hype. When a reporter inquired last week, a Fox spokeswoman implored him to “separate expectations from the actual ratings.”

Mr. Darnell, who told The Wall Street Journal in October that his competitors would give “one eye and two legs” to have “The X Factor” on their schedules, stepped it up a notch in an interview last week, saying without being prompted, “All the networks would literally give all their arms, legs and one eye for a show like this.”

Fox has already ordered a second season of “The X Factor,” as well as a second season of a sitcom that has outperformed it in some weeks among 18- to 49-year-olds, “New Girl.”

In an late-night interview after Thursday’s episode, Mr. Cowell pointed to the interview itself as evidence of his satisfaction with his show’s performance. “If I wasn’t proud of it,” he said, “I’d be ducking for cover.”

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Bucks: Study Finds 4 Unhealthy Attitudes Toward Money

Paul Sullivan, in his Wealth Matters column this week, writes about a new study that looks at people’s attitudes toward money.

The study concludes that there are four basic attitudes that can hurt people’s finances. Money avoidance, in which people seek to distance themselves from money, is one. Those who fall into the second category, money worship, seek the status derived from the things that money can buy. Money status, the third, occurs when people’s self-worth is tied to their net worth. And people who fall into the last category, money vigilance, are wary of spending.

The study was intended to help therapists and financial advisers quickly understand their clients’ beliefs about money.

Do you see yourself falling into any of these categories? Do you have any advice that would help people get over some of their unhealthy attitudes toward money?

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