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2006 Culture Awards

The Year in TV

Industry Star: Simon Fuller
Fox’s ratings are in free fall, down 9 percent from last year. Its fall shows were among the season’s first casualties. Then there was O.J. But none of that will matter come January 16, when American Idol premieres. Idol is the Atlas of reality TV, carrying a network on its shoulders. Credit goes not just to creator Simon Fuller, but to Bronx-born billionaire Robert F.X. Sillerman, who last year bought Fuller’s 19 Entertainment company for $188 million. This year, his investment looks shrewder, as three former winners—all under contract—struck gold: Kelly Clarkson won two Grammys, Carrie Underwood beat out Faith Hill for country music’s Female Vocalist of the Year, and Taylor Hicks’s first single debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Even Idol castoff Jennifer Hudson is being mentioned for an Oscar for Dreamgirls. More improbable, by resisting efforts to drive his franchise into the ground, Fuller’s maintained his bubblegum dominance even as other reality shows lose their flavor. Not even Fox expected the show to last, let alone grow. Simply put, in a year when everyone was talking about TV on the Internet, everyone was watching American Idol on TV. —Jada Yuan

On ESPN, every opinion is belligerent and every delinquency equally urgent, from Terrell Owens to Donald Rumsfeld. The addition this year of Monday Night Football just gives more opportunity to shill for the sister companies, from Disney movies to ABC programs. But the cannibalism is actually in reverse: ESPN is swallowing the culture. Why do we no longer see a wide receiver scamper to a touchdown without a subsequent Sun Dance or a debauched-gazelle mime? Because they’re all now playing to the broadcast booth, hoping to score the highlights show.

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