Darnell is basking in the day-after Nielsen glow—and inflamed critic responses—for his latest headline-grabbing unscripted effort.
The show wasn't sent to critics before the debut. It's a tactic Darnell says he learned the hard way after sending out a preview copy of "Temptation Island" right before walking into the Television Critics Association press tour several years ago.
So now after every Fox reality premiere, Darnell gets the roller-coaster experience of reading his reviews and ratings on the same day.
"They thought ["Moment"] was everything from boring, to vile, to boring and vile," he says. "But generally speaking, if you have a critically acclaimed reality show, it's not a big hit. Then you have, like, 'Amazing Race.' Reviews have been great for 'Kitchen Nightmares,' and it does well, but it's not a 25 [share]. I don't think most critics would say they represent regular people. ["Moment"] did not get good reviews, and I would have thought I had done something wrong if it did."
One common complaint from critics and viewers is that the show's pace is too sluggish, particularly in the game's early rounds.
"For every game show on television, somebody says it's too slow," Darnell says. "'Deal or No Deal,' for all its energy, can be slow. When opening those first 10 boxes, I feel like I'm gonna kill myself."
That said, Darnell says the "Moment" pace will pick up.
"It's always been a semi-issue with the show because you have the pauses between the revelation and [the lie detector result]," he says. "You gotta have that to watch the reaction of the friends and family. But we're going to try to quicken the pace a little bit."
The show's promised "end of western civilization" drama will increase as well, Darnell says, particularly once the show shifts to the 8 p.m. hour in early March.
"We intentionally opened with a middle-of-the-road episode," he says. "I didn't want people from middle America to freak out coming out of 'American Idol.'"
Darnell does not expect the show to retain its lofty premiere ratings height. But with a debut that strong, he figures there's plenty of ratings acreage to burn.
"There's no one who doesn't think it will go down after 'Idol,'" he says. "But if I lose 20% next week, great."