By James Hibberd
Updated December 21, 2012 at 04:23 PM EST
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Fox’s X-Factor and NBC’s The Voice went on two different trajectories this fall.

While Tuesday’s The Voice finale hit a season high and ranked as the show’s biggest closer yet, last night’s X-Factor finale was below its best numbers this season and fell notably from last year. X-Factor was seen by 9.6 million viewers and had a 3.1 rating, down 18 percent from its first season finale. Factor was also down 37 percent compared to The Voice finale on Tuesday. Broadcast rivals aired modestly rated repeats and specials.

Factor‘s sagging performance this fall comes despite a radical second season overhaul that included hiring pop singers Britney Spears and Demi Lovato for the judging panel and tapping celebrity personalities Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian to co-host the show’s live episodes. Those choices could get reexamined as the series prepares for a third round that Fox has ordered for next year (one judge, L.A. Reid, has said he’s not returning).

Some of Fox and executive producer/judge Simon Cowell’s TMZ-friendly hiring choices arguably allowed The Voice to claim the quality programming high road, though the show’s problems apparently extend beyond the new hires. As EW.com’s Annie Barrett wrote yesterday in a summary of X-Factor‘s second season: “The song-and-dance productions were as clunky and forgettable as ever, Britney’s faces got real old real fast, and Mario and Khlomeister still can’t even figure out which camera to gape at. Above all, the show is just devoid of any real character … Simon Cowell is the worst of them all — barely awake, looking insulted to even be spending his time like this. It’s his show, and he’s embarrassed, and he doesn’t care enough to inject any life into it … it’s like an unintentional parody of a reality show with zero sense of humor about itself.”

Still, when looking at Factor‘s ratings slippage, one has to also take into account the very presence of The Voice, which ranks as fall’s top-rated reality series and has significantly boosted NBC’s overall performance. NBC aired two spring editions of the show, then added Voice to the fall and likely made it more difficult for reality fans to justify investing time watching The X-Factor too.

More immediately, the question for Fox isn’t X-Factor, but American Idol, which returns Jan. 16. Last spring, Voice was nipping at Idol‘s heels in the ratings. NBC is risking Voice fatigue by doubling down, airing the franchise twice per season, but the strategy might still pay off. In the coming months, competition from The Voice could help topple Idol as TV’s highest-rated entertainment series. The Voice, however, will have its own uncertainties, with Usher and Shakira taking over for Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo as judges for this cycle. As both Voice and Factor have shown, in their own ways, which combintion of judges will prove to have chemistry with viewers and each another is perhaps the biggest x-factor of them all.

Full Chart:

ADULT DEMO RANK

ADULTS 18-49 RATING

TOTAL VIEWERS (+000)

FOX

8-10P

X-FACTOR

#1

3.1

9,646

ABC

8-9P

CHARLIE BROWN

RS

#7

1.4

5,116

9-11P

CMA XMAS

S

#6

1.5

7,280

CBS

8:00P

BIG BANG

R

#2

2.8

10,923

8:30P

TWO&HALF MEN

R

#3

2.3

8,730

9-10P

PERSON-INTEREST

R

#4

1.7

9,377

10-11P

ELEMENTARY

R

#8

1.3

6,753

NBC

8-9P

WHITE HOUSE XMAS

S

#5

1.6

8,462

9:00P

OFFICE

R

#9

1.0

3,108

9:30P

PARK & REC

R

#10t

0.8

2,098

10-11P

ROCK CENTER

#10t

0.8

3,498

CW

8-9P

VAMPIRE DIARIES

R

#12t

0.3

983

9-10P

BEAUTY&BEAST

R

#12t

0.3

878

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