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Fox On, Fox Off: New Girl and The X Factor Open to Surprising Results

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The most interesting television news of Premiere Week 2011 is the comparatively modest performance of The X Factor, which Fox and series creator Simon Cowell figured was going to be the ratings behemoth of the fall season. While 12-plus million viewers for its Wednesday opener are nothing to sneeze at, being beaten by a double dose of a three-year-old sitcom and a seven-year-old procedural crime drama during the second half of a two-hour series premiere of what was supposed to be the mother of all big-budget competition series has got to hurt. (ABC's Modern Family and CBS' Criminal Minds each attracted more than 14 million viewers.)

Fox can certainly take some comfort in its other big (and much better) news of the week: An audience of 10-plus million for the sweet and spunky new sitcom New Girl. Apparently even executives at the network didn't think it would do that well. This is puzzling. Like many other critics, I have said since last June that New Girl is the best new series of the fall. There is nothing not to love about this well-written, perfectly cast gem. Its impressive arrival as Fox's highest-rated fall sitcom debut in ten years should surprise no one.

The X Factor's relatively modest premiere should come as no surprise, either. It seems to me that the broadcast networks are under the impression that the audience appetite for singing competition series is insatiable. The half-dead season premiere for NBC's inexplicably extended The Sing-Off and the apparent vulnerability of The X Factor to its time period competitors may indicate that viewers are willing to devote only so much time each year to watching amateurs sing (or otherwise perform) like their lives depended on it.

I did, however, think that the cheerfully odd chemistry between Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul and the age range of the contestants (anyone 12 and up can perform solo, in duets or in groups) might make X Factor a force to contend with right from the start. That said, I never expected the premiere to play as flat as it did.

This column continues here.