Once again, ratings juggernaut "American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.) returns for another season.
Only this time, there's quite a bit of intrigue behind the scenes, given the major announcement Monday that this season would be Simon Cowell's last with the show. (He's producing and hosting a new series for Fox called "X-Factor," which he also makes for ITV in Britain).
Simon, quite simply, is the face of "AI." His loss will be impossible to calculate, though of course the series will go on after him. Simon's presence, his acerbic wit, his biting remarks, can't be replicated by someone else. Another judge who comes onto the show trying to act the same way Simon does will likely come across as a cheap imitation.
Viewers will get a taste of the future this season as new host Ellen DeGeneres replaces Paula Abdul. While Paula was often given to fits of bizarre unpredictablilty, it was that quality that made her fun to watch for many of the show's fans. I don't think Ellen will try to act like that, but she will have to mesh with the other judges.
Still, expect huge numbers this season at least. At the end of the day, people are tuning in because they pick a favorite contestant. It's about the performances, not the judges.
TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: "AI's" two-hour premiere will go against mostly new programming. ABC airs a rerun of "Scrubs" at 8 p.m., but then has new episodes of "Better Off Ted" and "Scrubs" running from 8:30 p.m.-10 p.m., followed by "The Forgotten."
CBS has an all-new night of "NCIS," "NCIS: LA" and "The Good Wife." It will be interesting to see how this particular lineup, one of the best-rated ones of the week, fares against "AI." Meanwhile, NBC has its own reality series in "The Biggest Loser" at 8 p.m.
On cable, TNT begins airing "Southland" at 10 p.m. It's the critically acclaimed series dropped by NBC over the summer. Tonight's episode is the original pilot, so if you missed it the first time around, now you can catch up. TNT will be showing six unaired episodes produced by NBC later in the season.
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