When “American Idol” relaunches every January, it annihilates everything in its path. Almost.
“Idol” dominates year in and year out when it comes to ratings, ad dollars and media buzz. But the show still hasn’t yet conquered the granddaddy of all TV kudos: the Emmy Awards.
For one brief evening in September at the Shrine Auditorium, “Idol’s” producers get a taste of what it must feel like to air opposite their show — and get smacked in the face annually by a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut.
In this case, that juggernaut is critical favorite “The Amazing Race,” which has now won the outstanding reality/competition Emmy four consecutive times.
Actually, because the “reality/competition” Emmy only debuted in 2003, “The Amazing Race” is the only show to have ever won it –“Survivor” has also scored an Emmy, but back when the category was still broader and named the confusing “Outstanding Special Class Program” Emmy.
“Amazing Race” executive producer Bertram van Munster says he never takes the award for granted — but he’s not giving up his lock on the Emmy without a fight.
“It’s a vote of confidence on how we produce the show, which makes me very proud and humbles me,” he says. “But if the Emmy comes down to who has the most ambitious project, we’re hands down the most ambitious reality TV show ever produced on a global scale. … People who have given us the Emmy have thought about it and looked at what we’ve done.”
Van Munster credits the rapid-fire pace of “The Amazing Race,” not to mention its logistical tightrope and real-world backdrop, for the show’s Emmy domination.
Most of “Race’s” competitors, including “Idol,” are stationary and either stick inside a studio space (see “Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars”) or remain mostly in one general area (“Survivor” or “America’s Next Top Model”).
“Every episode of our show is completely different — there’s a completely different set of expectations and a different story,” van Munster says. “Then in terms of location, shooting in North Vietnam is not the easiest thing in the world.”
Of course, streaks are meant to be broken — even “Frasier,” which won the comedy Emmy an unprecedented five consecutive times, eventually fell to a rival. But Fox reality guru Mike Darnell isn’t holding his breath yet.
“Voters get stuck in a pattern for a time,” he says. “They keep voting for the same show — it happens in scripted, too.”
If anything, Darnell believes being No. 1 works against “Idol.” Ratings powerhouses frequently fail to duplicate that success on Emmy night — witness the lack of attention toward CBS’ “CSI,” or how long it took for a show like “Everybody Loves Raymond” to finally get noticed.
But Darnell says he doesn’t lose sleep over the lack of Emmy attention toward “Idol.”
“I will take being the No. 1 show on TV any day to winning an Emmy,” he says. “It would be lovely to win one. And it would be great for everybody to be recognized. But the audience believes, just by numbers alone, that this is the best show on TV. And that means more to everybody involved.”
So, is this the year “Idol” finally gets some Emmy love? Given the topsy-turvy year the show has just experienced, it’s tough to say.
On the one hand, “Idol” experienced its most ambitiously produced season yet — as it threw a two-night event, “Idol Gives Back,” in addition to its usual big finale. “Idol Gives Back” could offer up the extra boost the show needed with Emmy voters to get noticed.
On the flip side, the “Idol” competition itself fell flat this year, with less interest in the show’s final two contestants (and too much attention given to a certain contestant’s hair and off-key warbling). As a result, the ratings began to slip — and this year is generally considered the show’s weakest.
At least “Idol” exec producers Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe won’t have to deal with the potentially awkward position of helming the Emmy telecast while watching their show get beat by “Amazing Race” again.
That’s because they recently dropped out of plans to produce the kudofest. Between producing “Idol Gives Back” and the “Idol” finale as well as summer skein “So You Think You Can Dance” and new fall entry “The Search for the Next Great American Band,” the duo ran out of time.
“There’s an irony that they can’t produce it because they put so much effort into the ‘Idol’ charity show,” Darnell says.