The Times reports today that American Idol is a a programming juggernaut never seen before on TV. That’s why we started Idol Critic (this week’s episode will be out Thursday after the vote).

Kelly Kahl, the chief scheduler for CBS, summed up the “Idol” factor this way: “This is a big monolith sitting out there. It’s the ultimate schoolyard bully.”

If any of Fox’s rivals had hopes that this year might signal some hint that the monster — NBC favors the term Death Star — would finally betray some sign of weakness, those hopes were dispelled in just a week. Most television shows, no matter how successful, fall off sometime after their second or third season, but against all expectations, and most of the historic record of network television, “American Idol” has come back for its sixth season bigger and stronger than ever.

Last year at this time, five weeks into its season, “American Idol” was roaring along as television’s most-watched show, with an average of 31.7 million viewers (up substantially from its fourth season, when it averaged 28.3 million viewers over the same five weeks).

Improbably, this season the show has done even better, averaging 33.5 million viewers over its first five weeks. For perspective, at this point “Idol” could lose half its audience and still rank among the top 10 shows on television. And no one dares predict when this phenomenon will fade.

“Idol” is creating ever more powerful shock waves. A growing number of television executives have begun to regard “American Idol” as a programming force unlike any seen before. Jeff Zucker, the new chief executive of NBC Universal, said, “I think ‘Idol’ is the most impactful show in the history of television.”

Not I Love Lucy. Not Friends, Seinfeld, Dallas, Cosby, Hill St. Idol.