The broadcast network and the production companies have settled on a framework for an agreement to bring back the long-running singing-competition series. According to sources, the Alphabet is eyeing a March premiere for the show, which would potentially air on Sunday nights, where ABC has struggled in recent seasons against NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and programming on Fox and CBS that benefits from a strong NFL lead-in. The Alphabet is the only broadcaster of the Big Four that does not have an NFL package.
Yet to be decided is whether or how longtime host Ryan Seacrest could return to the franchise. Seacrest this week was announced as the new co-host of ABC syndicated morning program “Live!” with Kelly Ripa. He is relocating to New York for the role — a move that presents a substantial obstacle to a return as host of “Idol,” which has always filmed in Los Angeles.
ABC, which has yet to close the deal, had passed on “Idol” after hearing a pitch for it earlier this year. At that time, as Variety reported exclusively, NBC had emerged as the lead network to pick up a revival being shopped by FremantleMedia, which has insisted on a minimum 25-hour order from any broadcast partner.
But the Peacock backed away from a deal, concerned that “Idol” could negatively impact singing competition series “The Voice,” and turned off by a high asking price from the producer. The ABC deal would preclude the involvement of original judge Simon Cowell, who was rumored to be a possibility to rejoin the show at NBC, where he produces “America’s Got Talent” and has an exclusive agreement.
One potential name that has been floated to join the revived series is that of Kelly Clarkson, the singer who won the first season of “Idol” and went on to achieve pop-star status with hits such as “Since U Been Gone.”
ABC, which works with FremantleMedia on “Celebrity Family Feud” and “Match Game,” took another look at “Idol” last month while mapping out contingency plans for a possible strike by the Writers Guild of America. Broadcast and cable networks in the weeks leading up to the strike devoted a significant amount of time and energy to exploring what unscripted programming could be greenlit or expanded in the event of a strike.
To land the show, ABC had to outbid Fox, which moved aggressively in recent weeks to bring the series back to its air. “Idol” ran on Fox for 15 seasons beginning in 2002. For eight consecutive seasons, beginning in 2003-04, it was the highest-rated show on television. At its peak in 2006, “American Idol” averaged a 12.4 rating among in the 18-49 demographic and 36.4 million total viewers, according to Nielsen live-plus-same day numbers.
Ratings began to decline steeply in the show’s later years, to the point that Fox decided that it no longer represented a worthwhile financial or scheduling commitment. (The series aired two nights a week, typically beginning in midseason.) The final season in 2016 averaged a 2.2 and 9.1 million viewers. Those numbers were far diminished from what the show drew in its heyday, but they remain respectable by contemporary standards, with delayed viewing and increased competition applying downward pressure on live ratings across television.
ABC is expected to announce the return of “Idol” this month at its upfront presentation in New York.