“American Idol,” long the spine of Fox’s primetime schedule in the second half of the season, is due for a little rehabilitative surgery.
The network intends to pare back the hours it has typically devoted to the program, and is still working on a new format for the venerable show, said Kevin Reilly, Fox’s chairman of entertainment, in a conference call with reporters Monday to discuss Fox’s plans for the 2014-2015 TV season. “American Idol” will “end up being a two-hour show on one night through most of its run,” Reilly said, noting that the new presentation of the competition program remained “a work in progress.”
The show’s presence on Fox’s schedule has been so dominant that for the first time in many years, Fox did not unveil a firm lineup for the second half of the season.
Fox’s decision to prune the show’s presence reflects the mainstay’s diminished power. After nearly a decade and a half on the air, “Idol’s” age has outweighed its broader allure, but Fox executives believe it could have a long tenure on its air if treated properly. Reilly pointed to CBS’ “Survivor,” which he said “had a vital season last year” even though it is no longer a top ratings draw. “That’s the mode we are in with ‘Idol” now. It’s not about turning it around. That story has been filed. Now it’s about making it a good show for many years to come.”
The show’s ratings story has become one of the most followed plotlines in television, owing perhaps to the program’s seismic effect on TV culture. Here was a TV event that brought parents and children together to watch the rise and fall of unknowns-turned-famous, including people like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler. At one time, “Idol” was drawing more than 20 million viewers on each of two nights that Fox broadcast it.
But its mature status has been hard to ignore. AT&T, a longtime sponsor of the show that used it to generate consumer interest in mobile-phone texting when that technology was in its infancy, dropped its sponsorship before “Idol” started this season. Ford Motor, another veteran supporter of the program, pulled back its support in previous seasons, allowing rival automakers to advertise on the second weekly edition of the program. In an earlier time, Ford demanded that no other carmaker be allowed to run ads on “Idol.”
At its height, “Idol” took up 50 hours of programming or more each season. In 2015, Reilly said, it was likely to take up 37 hours or so. While Fox will give two nights to “Idol” when the show is still in its audition process, that is likely to end early on in the second half of the year.
While “Idol” may look different next season, one of its elements is likely to look the same. When asked if the show’s current group of judges — Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. — would return, Reilly said, “We are getting good indications from all of them.”