Undeterred by past failures, rivals chase show's success
The unstoppable success of “American Idol” has TV types scurrying to find the next big talent show phenom — again.
Convinced that viewers are hungry for even more amateur hours, each of the Big Four nets are rolling out summer skeins designed to capture the “Idol” mojo. Even Simon Cowell’s getting into the act with “America’s Got Talent,” the Ed Sullivan-esque variety show-competition that bows this week on NBC.
“Everyone’s chasing the ‘Idol’ audience,” Cowell admits.
There’s just one problem with the nets’ star search: They’ve been down this road before — and the last time around, the results weren’t pretty.
After “Idol” first took the nation by storm in 2002, a slew of copycats hit the airwaves. CBS brought back “Star Search,” NBC tried “Fame” and ABC began a hunt for the “All American Girl.”
All three shows bombed. Webheads say they’re not worried about past failures. They point to the fact that “Idol” was able to increase its audience in its fifth season as proof that there’s a growing –and unsated — hunger for the talent genre.
“If ‘American Idol’ can do a 12 rating, some of those people have to want to watch the same sort of the show in the summer, especially since ‘Idol’ started in the summer,” says one hopeful exec. “Everybody wants to get up to bat and take a swing.”
But it’s frustration, and a little bit of spite, that’s driving this new round of shows.
Fact is, rival nets keep praying “Idol” will lose steam. That the numbers remain boffo irks them to no end.
“It’s salt in their wounds,” says Endemol USA prexy David Goldberg, who’s producing “The One: Making a Music Star” for ABC.
“This is a show that destroys everything in its wake. People just feel there has to be room for another one.”
So rather than sit around waiting for “Idol” to fade, nets have decided to go on the offensive.
NBC last month launched “Last Comic Standing,” a revival of a format last seen in 2004. Peacock nearly killed the franchise by rushing back-to-back seasons of the show, but NBC reality topper Craig Plestis was convinced there was still life in the idea.
So far, he’s been proven right: While hardly a runaway smash, early episodes of “Comic” have easily won their timeslots.
“Here’s the lesson,” Plestis says. “You can’t rush things on the air and be reactive. You have to find those shows you believe in and do them right.”
Indeed, while the first wave of “Idol” rip-offs were mostly rush jobs, nets have put more time into their new clones.
CBS, for example, took a year to develop last summer’s “Rock Star” with creator Mark Burnett. Skein did solid but unspectacular numbers in its first go-round, but the Eye’s being patient and bringing it back for a second outing.
ABC’s “The One,” meanwhile, is an adaptation of a Spanish format that actually pre-dates “Idol’s” first British incarnation. Fox optioned the rights to the idea from Endemol USA shortly after “Idol” first hit, but opted to shelve it rather than compete with its own franchise.
And while NBC didn’t announce “America’s Got Talent” until February — after “Idol’s” jaw-dropping fifth-season premiere numbers came in — Cowell says he’s been working on the idea for two years.
Producers and execs also insist the new batch of “Idol” wannabes — or at least their own projects — boast enough unique ideas to qualify as more than mere knockoffs.
“America’s Got Talent” does have three judges and weekly results shows as well as more than a few crooners. But it also features a cavalcade of quirky contestants, from rapping grannies and jugglers to acrobats and animal acts.
“After ‘Idol,’ I wouldn’t put on a one-genre talent show, be it singing, dancing or whatever,” Cowell says. “You can’t top ‘Idol,’ so if you offer yourself up as a comparison to it, you’re going to fail.”
Goldberg agrees, and says “The One” will differentiate itself from “Idol” by broadening its focus beyond performances.
“This is much more about the process than just the end result,” he says. “There will be character development.”
Fox execs declined to comment. But the network is not simply sitting back and letting everyone else copy its hit.
Indeed, the Fox has found summer success with the second season of “So You Think You Can Dance,” an “Idol” for hoofers that comes from the “Idol’s” producers. And this fall, Cowell is producing “Duets,” a sort of celebrity “Idol” that pairs amateurs with professional singers.
And beyond the summer, even more “Idol”-esque skeins are in the works.
Ben Silverman — whose USA skein “Nashville Star” is one of the few shows to successfully tap into the “Idol” zeitgeist — is producing a U.S. version of the Eurovision song contest for NBC. The fledgling CW is also working with members of the Go-Gos and Bangles to find an all-girl band.
Clearly, there’s no harm in trying to duplicate “Idol’s” success. Cowell did just that in Blighty with “The X-Factor,” and it worked so well, his show eventually replaced the U.K. “Idol.”
“How many cop dramas are there?” the snarky Brit asks. “The audience is much more intelligent than people think. They’ll watch the ones they think are best.”
And, as Endemol’s Goldberg says, “If the networks can do half or a third of the numbers of ‘Idol,’ they’ll be happy.”
Others see a more calculated reason for the clones.
“Part of this is about trying to take the luster off ‘Idol,’ ” says one network operative, reasoning that all the knock-offs could make viewers sick of talent shows.
An observer with ties to the “Idol” franchise scoffs at that notion — and suggests a backlash could be in the works.
“The more copies there are that seem like lesser shows, the more people pine for ‘Idol,’ ” he says.