Folks at FOX confirm to me that starting on March 11, "American Idol" will shift time slots with "Lie to Me." That will put "Idol" at 9 p.m. and give "Lie to Me" the responsibility of leading into a show that, let's face it, doesn't really need a lead-in. 

Lots of sites are reporting this as if it's some major news story, almost like it's FOX scheduling mastermind Preston Beckman's personal vendetta against "Lost" and his not-so-subtle attempt to squish the Oceanic Six like bugs. But isn't the Wednesday "American Idol" episode usually at 9? I mean, hasn't that been the case historically? Correct answer? Yes. 

So really, FOX is just correcting what was a scheduling anomaly and restoring order to Wednesday nights. Sure, they may have lured ABC into scheduling "Lost" on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. when that looked like a safe haven, but who's fault is it that ABC bit? 

[More after the bump...]

The decision to move "Lie to Me" to 8 p.m. wasn't done without pre-meditation. Actually, although FOX wasn't really promoting the swap, the network's press site schedule had had "Lie to Me" moving to 8 p.m. and "Idol" going to 9 p.m. starting this Wednesday (Feb. 18). Perhaps noting that next week's State of the Union will mean pushing "Idol" back a day and therefore preempting "Lie to Me" anyway, FOX decided to hold off on the swap until "Idol" reaches its stable Top 12. 

"Lie to Me," which has averaged more than 12.5 million viewers with its "Idol" cushion, will have two additional weeks of "American Idol" protection before it will be forced to stand alone. What are the odds of it being able to do that? Hard to know. "Lie to Me" has lost more than half of its lead-in each week, but it appears to have stabilized with a retention higher than that of the Tuesday "Idol" beneficiary, "Fringe." 

Even without "Idol" as a booster, "Lie to Me" moves into a much safer home. At 9 p.m. it faced two strong hour-long dramas in ABC's "Lost" and CBS' "Criminal Minds," plus NBC's underwatched "Life." At 8 p.m. it faces two so-so CBS comedies with mediocre ratings, ABC's newly formed "Scrubs" and "Better Off Ted" comedy block and whatever dreck NBC happens to be airing. Placing "Lie to Me" at 8 p.m. will help FOX tell if the Tim Roth drama is going to be worth a renewal or if it's just an "Idol"-aided pretender. 

The surprise beneficiary of the move may actually be the ABC comedy block, which had been tossed out there as "Idol" cannon fodder but may have room to sneak in and secure some 18-49 viewership. Who knows? This could be ABC's chance for a breakout comedy smash!

[You couldn't see me, but I kept a straight face as I wrote that last sentence. "Scrubs" is not suddenly going to become a hit again, sorry. And "Better Off Ted," while surprisingly funny and appealing, is a single-camera comedy on a network where single-camera comedies go to die.]

This isn't good news for "Lost," which stared down "Idol" last week when the show announced its Top 36 and saw its audience fall to just under 9.8 million viewers, down from nearly 11 million the week before, which was already down from the week before that and the week before that. What I'm saying is that the "Lost" audience was slipping week-to-week anyway and last week's decline may also have been due to a new "Criminal Minds" on CBS. 

As great as this season's episodes have been, at a certain point, "Lost" will no longer have a single casual viewer anymore. There won't be anybody who passes in and out of the "Lost" universe and if you're one of the people who sticks like glue, you probably aren't going to be too horrified to see "American Idol" racing in the outside lane. You just won't notice. 

Just because "American Idol" crushes "Lost" -- and it will -- doesn't mean it's going to have the power to get "Lost" cancelled or anything silly like that. "Lost" has a finite number of remaining episodes and those episodes are going to air. The viewers "Lost" is going to lose aren't the viewers Cuse and Lindelof are really targeting. 

I feel more sorry for "Life," an delicate little character-driven procedural that isn't going to get renewed without everything breaking right. Damian Lewis and company are so good, but "American Idol" is going to scoop up every free-range viewer. NBC's schedule for next fall will be tight to begin with, so this wasn't what "Life" needed.

Anyway, this little scheduling maneuver isn't the end of the world for anybody. FOX hasn't forfeited the right to reverse course if "Lie to Me" flounders at 8 p.m. "Idol" watchers will go where Ryan Seacrest tells them to and they'll drink the beverages he tells them to drink. 

Just keep an eye out, starting March 11.

 

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