ABC Entertainment chief Channing Dungey promised to deliver “ABC’s version of ‘American Idol’ ” when the talent competition series returns in 2018, less than two years after the series ended its storied run on Fox.
ABC is coming off a disappointment this summer with the quick flame-out of another unscripted musical competition series, “Boy Band.” Dungey acknowledged that “Boy Band,” which premiered in June, was designed to appeal to a more targeted audience niche that simply didn’t show up, but she expects “Idol” to continue to be a big-tent show as it was for 15 seasons on Fox.
“This is going to be ABC’s version of ‘American Idol,’ ” Dungey told reporters Sunday during her executive session held as part of ABC’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour in Beverly Hills. “We’re looking forward to putting our special stamp and imprimatur on it.”
Dungey didn’t offer much in the way of specifics for the series, which is expected to bow on ABC in March to draft off of the promotional platform of the network’s Academy Awards telecast on March 4. She said there would be more details to come at the winter TCA tour in January.
ABC has had no luck for years in its efforts to launch a music competition series. The belly flop of “Boy Band,” which Dungey called “a creative swing for us,” is the latest example. But “Idol,” she said, is a different animal with a built-in brand.
“What I love about ‘American Idol’ is that it’s broad,” Dungey said. “We’re hoping ‘Idol’ will have the same kind of broad canvas that this show has always enjoyed.”
ABC and “Idol” producer FremantleMedia North America raised eyebrows with the megabucks deal to lure Katy Perry to the new judges’ panel with a salary estimated at about $25 million a year. Dungey would not comment on the financials of Perry’s deal, but she indicated ABC sees it as a worthy investment in bringing people to the reboot.
“We hit the jackpot with Katy,” Dungey said. “She is an enormous star. She has great presence. She is a songwriter. She understands talent, and to have somebody like her on our panel as one of our judges is fantastic.”
While the network has to “make sure we make the right decision so that the show can actually be financially viable,” she said having a high-wattage personality like Perry is important. The same goes for ABC’s deal with Ryan Seacrest to return as “Idol” host, she said.
“My hope is that ‘Idol’ is going to be on our schedule for quite some time to come,” she said.
The ABC era of “American Idol” begins in earnest on Aug. 17 when buses leave from Portland, Ore., and Walt Disney World in Florida to begin the national search for contestants with an auditions tour that stops in numerous cities around the country. Dungey said they expect to announce the rest of Perry’s fellow judges “very soon.”
Dungey made a point of reminding the TCA crowd that the promise she made last summer to feature a diverse lead on its “Bachelor” dating competition franchise was made good this year with Rachel Lindsay, who is African-American, fielding suitors on “The Bachelorette.” But Dungey emphasized that Lindsay emerged as the prime candidate to topline the latest edition of “Bachelorette” because of the fan response to Lindsay on a previous edition of “Bachelor.”
“Rachel was a fan favorite right out of the gate, so the process worked the way we were hoping that it would,”Dungey said. “I’m really pleased because it was a very organic thing to happen. And the audience feels really good about the fact that she was chosen.”
Dungey was also pressed on the drama that erupted behind-the-scenes on the “Bachelor in Paradise” series shoot in Mexico earlier this summer, when one female contestant made allegations of inappropriate behavior from a male contestant in a setting where copious amounts of alcohol reportedly were consumed. Production was shut down while producer Warner Horizon Television conducted an investigation which found no wrongdoing.
Dungey would not discuss the specifics, deferring questions to Warner Bros. But the situation “certainly has brought to light some safety issues that we want to make sure we are more on top of moving forward,” Dungey said. “When something like this happens, it’s a little bit of a wake-up call to really make sure that we have all of the right processes in place.”
Like her network executive peers, Dungey addressed the challenges that broadcast TV in particular is having when it comes to audience measurement of viewing across multiple platforms. She urged the roomful of reporters to remember that many ABC shows show double- and triple-digit audience gains in Nielsen’s live-plus-7 ratings and streaming platforms are factored in.
“When people talk about the death of broadcast television, I don’t think they’re taking (the full) audience into account,” she said. ABC in particular tends to run serialized dramas that lend themselves to binge-watching via delayed viewing, she added.
Among other topics raised during the session:
“Once Upon a Time”: Dungey talked up the bold effort by showrunners Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis to reinvent the show that blends fairy-tale figures and Disney characters, in light of the exit of key cast members. “They’ve come up with an entirely new way to tell the stories which I think is fantastic,” she said.
Real-world politics: Dungey doesn’t expect the real-life frenzy in Washington, D.C. to seep into the network’s overtly politic series such as “Scandal” and “Designated Survivor.” Those shows “can’t help but be informed by real events happing around us…(but) they’re very specific and very true to the creator’s vision,” she said. “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes “has a roadmap for Season 7 that she’s going to stick to regardless of what happens in the outside world,” she said.
Issue-oriented shows: ABC series including “Blackish” and “Speechless” have tackled social issues from time to time in a way that has drawn praise. Dungey sees that as an important mission for broadcast TV but one that shouldn’t be overdone. “At the end of the day broadcast television has many opportunities to inform the audience, to enlighten the audience and to entertain them. The right balance is something we’re always trying to strike,” she said.
“When We Rise”: Dungey acknowledged her disappointment at the low viewer turnout for Dustin Lance Black’s miniseries about the rise of the gay rights movement, but she has no regrets in backing the project. Black “had a story he really wanted to tell and it was our pleasure to help him tell it,” she said. ABC will pursue similar issue-driven event projects, although she conceded that the network has to be “very choosy about what you pursue,” she said. “We can’t afford to do them all the time.”
“Last Man Standing”: The cancellation of the Tim Allen comedy after six seasons has spurred suspicion that Allen’s conservative political beliefs contributed to the decision. Dungey sought once again to dispel that theory. “Tim Allen’s personal politics had nothing whatsoever to do with it,” she said.