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Fox executive Darnell to leave TV network after ratings slump

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Longtime Fox television executive Mike Darnell, who helped shepherd "American Idol" to the top of U.S. TV ratings, will leave the network, Fox said on Friday, after the network lost its lead among the younger audience most appealing to advertisers.

Darnell, 51, the network's president of alternative entertainment, oversaw some of Fox's most popular shows - including talent contest "The X Factor," animated series "Family Guy" and reality cooking shows "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares."

"I'm extremely grateful that Fox has offered me a new long term contract (and anyone who knows me won't believe I'm saying this), but I've decided it's time for a change," Darnell said in a statement.

Prime time ratings at News Corp-owned Fox slumped 16.7 percent this year, according to Nielsen data provided by Horizon Media and based on viewing the day the show airs.

The network also lost its eight-year grip atop the 18-to-49 age group most coveted by advertisers, falling behind CBS, according to Nielsen data released this week.

Fox's ratings were brought down largely by a shrinking audience for "American Idol." The show's finale set a record-low ratings of 14.2 million viewers last week.

It was the first time in its 12-season history that the audience for the "Idol" finale failed to top 20 million and the network is in the midst of overhauling program's judging panel.

Darnell, who joined the network in 1994 as director of specials, will officially leave Fox at the end of June.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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