‘X Factor’ First-Night Ratings Underwhelming

With 12.1 million viewers, Simon Cowell's show pulls half 'American Idol' season 10 premiere audience.

Simon Cowell has been talking all week about how he’d like his new reality singing show to bury the competition, which, in his case is his old reality singing stomping grounds, “American Idol.”

Well, “The X Factor” is going to have to do a lot better than it did during its Wednesday night debut if it’s going to reach the “Idol” critical mass. According to overnight ratings, not only did “Factor” pull about half of the typical “Idol” market share, it wasn’t even the highest-rated show that aired last night.

According to Nielsen, “Factor” pulled in 12.1 million viewers for its heavily hyped two-hour debut, with a 4.4/12 rating in the prized 18 to 49 demographic, which was far below the numbers for the night’s ratings champ, Emmy-winning sitcom “Modern Family,” which boasted 14.3 million viewers and a 6.0/15 for its season premiere. In fact, “Factor” was only the fourth most-watched show of the night.

The Hollywood Reporter noted that overall “Factor” averaged an 8.7 rating, which was half of the 16.4 rating “Idol” pulled in earlier this year in its season 10 premiere, which drew 26.1 million eyeballs in January. The trade magazine called it a “quiet start” for a show with the richest prize on TV — a $5 million recording contract — and which the mag reported cost the Fox network $250 million to obtain the U.S. rights from NBC. That’s on top of the untold millions Fox spent promoting the show all summer and what we can only assume is Cowell’s hefty producer/judging fee.

Before the “Factor” debut, Cowell told the Reporter he would view anything less than 20 million viewers for the first show as a “disappointment.”

As with “Idol,” it’s likely the ratings for “X Factor” will grow as the season progresses and the competition becomes more intense among contestants to whom viewers have become attached. And judging from the first episode, while the show certainly has some glaring similarities to “Idol,” there are enough novel touches — a wider age range of contestants, singing groups and a live audience at auditions — that like the hit singing competition “The Voice,” Cowell’s latest might find its footing and end up with solid, but perhaps not record-shattering ratings.

Or, it could be that no matter how much we love to hate Cowell, America doesn’t have enough room in its heart for three celebrity-packed singing shows. Only time will tell.

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