Having forgotten or banished the memory of “American Juniors,” Fox and the producers of “American Idol” have brought us another brand extension of that franchise, with only slightly better results. Again slavishly copying the “Idol” formula except with bands instead of solo acts, Friday’s overwrought two-hour premiere reached for comedy (bizarre groups) and drama (the physically disabled, kid groups, or guys-who-keep-talking-about-their-kids) but consistently fell short, with even the simmering Las Vegas heat unable to add suspense. The Friday slot speaks volumes, indicating that this latest talent search is really just the Next Uninspired Reality Competition.
The judges immediately betrayed the show’s lack of imagination, with Johnny Rzeznik (the Goo Goo Dolls) approximating the bland Randy, drummer Sheila E. standing in for easy-grading Paula and Ian “Dicko” Dickson (a transplant from “Australian Idol”) doing his best impersonation of Simon by snarling at the performers and occasionally articulating an interesting thought. Finally, New Zealander Dominic Bowden matches the hosting depth of Ryan Seacrest, commiserating with the contestants as if he has money riding on all of them.
If there’s a bigger indignity than being judged by a grown man named “Dicko,” by the way, it’s hard to think of off hand.
Two hours later, it was difficult to give a rat’s ass who moved on, from the 12-year-old metal band to the guy born without arms that plays with his feet to the front man of something called Northmont, who appeared to have talent but was let down by his mediocre mates.
The only real surprise, in fact, was a group in heavy makeup called Zombie Bazooka Patrol that, far from being a quickly gong-ed oddity, delivered a sprightly original novelty song that earned them a spot among the dozen finalists, who (based on the blase ratings) most of America will happily ignore.
Fox was doubtless caught between a rock and hard place with this concept, unable or afraid to say “no” to the “Idol” gang but recognizing this spinoff as the kind of knockoff that could only diminish the flagship program — a money train that has helped obscure lots of mediocre development. Hence the Friday berth, where at least the show can be counted on to do relatively little damage while flaming out.
Perception-wise, however, the rapid disappearance of “Nashville” and now tepid debut of “The Next Great American Band” underscore how fragile these musical reality concepts are, as well as how little Fox has done, in the bigger scheme of things, to capitalize upon the bountiful platform that “Idol” provides.
If nothing else, Fox’s newest offering highlights the distinction between the broadcast network and its sibling Fox News Channel — namely, that waving a flag and calling yourself “American” might work on the fringes, but not on the main stage.