By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Jan 12, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Nobody thinks that the ninth season of Fox's "American Idol," which launches at 7 tonight on Channel 6, will be the final run for the "reality" talent competition.

But there's a fair chance that the biggest TV show of the 21st century could be dislodged from its commanding spot atop the ratings.

A series of events, starting with the loss last season of viewers at the younger end of the viewing spectrum, has weakened the "Idol" juggernaut.

A key change this season is the  departure of Paula Abdul from the panel of judges. Yes, the one-time pop star frequently seemed to be on the verge of an on-camera breakdown. That's what made her a great TV character. 

Her replacement, Ellen DeGeneres, is a proven draw,  and adds a professional comedian to the cast. But many viewers will miss the uncertainty of a Paula meltdown.

Now, there's word of the departure of Simon Cowell at the end of this season. This one is a cut at the show's jugular vein. The snarky British judge is one of the most honest characters in "reality" TV.

Call him mean, call him snarky, but he understands that "Idol" is designed to create pop stars, not artists.

His coming departure is the biggest cloud hanging over this season.

"Idol" held the first place spot for half of the last decade. It has consistently done something other shows can't, by bringing together young and old viewers. The show's producers have shown a consistent ability to tinker with the show to keep it fresh.

But nothing lasts forever. And this could be the season where "Idol" becomes just another "reality" show. 

"Idol" chatter: I'll be talking about "Idol," and other TV topics tonight at 11:15 with Steve King and Johnnie Putman on Chicago's WGN-AM (720).

I'll also join Dave Murphy and Meg McKenzie on WRIT-FM (95.7) shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday to talk about the new season of  "Idol."

On TV: NBC's late-night problems got the David Letterman treatment last night. The CBS talker's "Top 10 Signs There's Trouble At NBC" opened with this No. 10: "Lineup has more holes than the Green Bay Packers defense."

  • Palermo's Pizza pops up in Discovery Channel's "Factory Made" at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The segment, filmed at Villa Palermo in Milwaukee last summer, also airs at 7 p.m. Thursday on the Science Channel.
  • Fox's most most buzzworthy show, "Glee," which is in reruns until April, will have a second season. That shouldn't come as a surprised to anybody. Producers are looking for a couple new characters to add to the cast.
  • AMC's "Breaking Bad" will return for its third season on March 21.
  • Word that David Hasselhoff is leaving NBC's "America's Got Talent" has been followed by talk that his departure from the the summer amateur competition wasn't voluntary.
  • It looks like Sarah Palin will do something for Fox News Channel, but it's not quite clear yet what she'll be doing.

The ghost of "reality" past: Remember Susan Hawk? She's the trucker from Waukesha who was one of the first big "reality" TV characters to emerge after her memorable monologue in the finale of the first season of CBS' "Survivor" back in the summer of 2000. 

The network held a reunion of past competitors on Saturday night to mark the 10th anniversary of "Survivor." The Los Angeles Times brought along a video camera to talk to the veterans.

Here's Susan Hawk, a decade after we got to know her on TV:

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.