It’s time to hit the brakes on Fox’s ‘Idol’

OK, enough’s bloody enough.

“American Idol” is starting to piss me off.

This isn’t to say the Fox singing competition doesn’t deserve to be a ratings success, even a full-blown hit. But nothing about the show is so riveting as to justify its insanely gaudy ratings, prompting the far-flung media world to crazily clutch at its coattails.

How fortunate for the media that the franchise comes equipped with helpful tabloid elements — such as the annual “contestant nude photo” scandal — just right for trashy magazines, “ET” and cable news.

Were “Idol” confined to its own sphere, its gargantuan status would be tolerable. As the franchise inflicts collateral damage, however, the show’s side effects become harder to ignore, sparking this (one-person, so far) backlash.

“Idol” doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but it does approximate the properties of one — efficiently sucking up viewers, while depriving other series the oxygen they need to survive.

In the past few weeks, that has meant leaving some of TV’s best and brightest new dramas gasping for air, having already chased ABC’s “Lost” to a new timeslot to escape “Idol’s” fury. With “Idol” swelling to two hours, both NBC’s scintillating high-school soap “Friday Night Lights” and CBS’ post-apocalyptic “Jericho” dipped to season-low ratings, suggesting that for them, anyway, the apocalypse might be now.

Still, Fox wasn’t satisfied by simply expanding the regular Tuesday- and Wednesday-night telecasts, adding a Thursday showing conflicting with “The Office.” That the rightfully lauded NBC comedy absorbed the body blow better than most is small consolation for the wreckage “Idol” left in its wake.

Around here, them’s fighting words.

Yet Fox isn’t content with “Idol’s” dominance. The network has gone further — tasking producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick with presiding over this year’s Emmy Awards, the implication being that the venerable telecast could use an “Idol”-like infusion.

So the TV Academy finds itself customarily caught between a rock and a hard place — under pressure to improve ratings and breathe life into its format, yet skittish about wrinkles that might mar the event’s dignity or diminish the 27 awards that are the broadcast’s ostensible point and, as snazzy TV showcases go, among its biggest liabilities.

Lythgoe and Warwick have thus far spoken vaguely about shaking things up, which makes one wonder whether anybody at Fox or the academy would have the brass to deny them if the duo wanted to present a medley of network chiefs dressed like the Fruit of the Loom underwear mascots.

Similarly, with so many news outlets lobbying for a seat aboard the gravy train, few in the media dare identify “Idol” for what it is — a karaoke sing-off designed to create and build up equity in bland pop acts such as Carrie Underwood and Clay Aiken.

The show is neither conceptually groundbreaking (series like “Popstars” and “Making the Band” got there first) nor musically inventive, making its enduring power a lingering mystery. Granted, there are the slick production values and peculiar alchemy of the judges — Simon Cowell’s bracing brutality and Paula Abdul’s slow-rolling dance toward an “E! True Hollywood Story” — but little else to explain the mix of luck and timing that births such a megahit, especially in reality TV.

To their credit, Fox and the producers have basked in this glory without rubbing “Idol’s” towering Nielsen tally in rivals’ faces — taking the high road, perhaps, because the network’s programming efforts outside “Idol” season have provided so little to crow about.

That said, if Ryan Seacrest’s face shows up anywhere near the Emmys, seriously, there ought to be hell to pay.


Sean Hannity has been on a crusade he calls the “Stop Hillary Express,” warning his conservative radio audience that without their vigilance, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton can indeed be elected president. More people would recognize this, Hannity lamented recently to his listeners, were the public not preoccupied with trifles like Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears, leaving it to committed patriots like him to educate them.

So what did Hannity lead with that night on “Hannity & Colmes,” his Fox News Channel program? None other than the still-dead Anna Nicole.

Hannity’s listeners are fond of saluting him as a “great American,” which fans and foes can surely debate. In terms of the hypocrisy that permeates the airwaves, though, he’s a very, very typical one.

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