×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘American Idol’ Revival: Is It ABC’s Hail Mary?

When ABC makes its upfront pitch to advertisers May 16 at Lincoln Center, it will no doubt make a big deal of its newest big deal. But the decision to revive “American Idol” is hardly being hailed as cutting-edge.

“Our network is bringing ‘American Idol’ back in a move that is being praised as the most original, groundbreaking idea of the year 2002,” Jimmy Kimmel joked on his ABC late-night show. He added, “HBO isn’t the only network airing ‘Leftovers,’ people.”

Kimmel cracks wise often at the expense of his home network. But his “Idol” jokes cut to some hard truths about the state of ABC.

The net will finish 2016-17 in fourth place in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo — its second consecutive fourth-place finish and fourth in five years. Recognizing the need for a turnaround, Disney-ABC Television chief Ben Sherwood last year fired the network’s entertainment president, Paul Lee, and replaced him with drama chief Channing Dungey.

The “Idol” gambit, however, is hardly a vote of confidence in the first scripted-programming slate developed on Dungey’s watch. For 2016-17, ABC ordered 13 drama pilots and 11 comedy pilots — more in either category than any other network. But with ABC committing to roughly 40 hours of “Idol,” most of those pilots are no longer necessary. “I was feeling pretty good about things until I heard about [‘Idol’],” one producer with multiple pilots in the mix at ABC told Variety.

According to insiders, “Idol” will likely premiere in March and air on Sunday nights. The end of the spring cycle of “The Bachelor” would open a slot on Monday evenings later that month for an hour-long weekly “Idol” results show. ABC is already heavily reliant on unscripted programming with its successful summer game shows, “The Bachelor” and its spinoffs, and the network’s other core reality franchise, “Dancing With the Stars.” Keeping “Idol” out of the way of those programs will require scheduling finesse. Comedies and dramas will inevitably be squeezed out in the process.

“Idol” presents a perception problem for ABC. The series was canceled by Fox prior to its 2016 run by new network chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman — longtime TV-studio heads who wanted to put their stamp on the network with scripted development. Scoring mixed results in that effort Fox made a late and aggressive bid to win “Idol” back even as producers FremantleMedia and Core Media Group were putting the finishing touches on a deal with ABC.

So, having foiled Fox, ABC is counting on 40 hours of another network’s castoff to shore itself up. ABC was aware of the baggage “Idol” came with when, earlier this year, it passed on Fremantle’s pitch for the show. But the network took another look last month while drafting contingencies for a possible Writers Guild of America strike. What ABC saw on second look was upside.

For eight consecutive seasons, beginning in 2003-04, “Idol” was the highest-rated show on television. Even in its final season, after its ratings had fallen off to the point that Fox no longer deemed it worth the financial commitment, “Idol” averaged a 2.2 Nielsen live-plus-same-day rating in the 18-49 demo and 9.1 million viewers. Those numbers pale in comparison with what “Idol” drew at its peak. But they’re more than respectable by current standards of steeply declining live ratings. A 2.2 would have made “Idol” the second-highest-rated show on TV the week of May 1.

Despite concerns about the show’s price tag, there are obvious steps ABC can take to control costs on “Idol,” starting with talent. With Ryan Seacrest — newly installed alongside Kelly Ripa on ABC morning show “Live” — nearing a deal to return as “Idol” host, the pressure to draw high-priced A-list artists as judges is lessened.

For ABC, a streamlined “Idol” that delivers a respectable fraction of the audience it once commanded would be a fine outcome — one worth the money spent, the head-scratching by fans and the consternation of the scripted creative community. But if the revived “Idol” falls flat, its legacy will be a wealth of second-guessing at ABC.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.

More Music

  • BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 18: (EDITORIAL

    Dax Shepard, Bobby Bones, 'Breakfast Club' Among iHeartRadio Podcast Awards Winners

    iHeartRadio launched its first ever Podcast Awards on Friday (January 18) in Los Angeles. Among the winners in 22 categories were “Whine Down with Jana Kramer” (Best Entertainment TV Podcast); “Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard (Breakout Podcast); “Bobbycast” (Music Podcast); and “The Breakfast Club” (Best Multicultural Podcast). The winners were determined by iHeartRadio listeners. Taking the top prize of Podcast [...]

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • R. Kelly

    R. Kelly Accusers Detail Abuse, Reveal Evidence on 'Dateline'

    The continuing controversy surrounding R. Kelly, including allegations of sexual abuse by a number of women over three decades, was the focus of Friday’s episode of “Dateline.” Speaking to accusers Sparkle, Jerhonda Pace and parents Tim and Jonjelyn Savage, among others, NBC’s Andrea Canning heard more harrowing tales of abduction and sexual misconduct on the part [...]

  • Huey Lewis

    BMG Signs Huey Lewis and the News

    Huey Lewis and the News, the band that soundtracked much of the 1980s, will return with a new album in 2019. The group has signed with BMG, the company announced today (Jan. 18), setting the stage for the tenth studio album and the first time they’re releasing original music in 18 years. Formed by Lewis [...]

  • Jordan Feldstein

    Roc Nation Seeks $11 Million From Insurer in Jordan Feldstein's Death

    Roc Nation filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking $11 million from its insurance carrier following the death of Maroon 5 manager Jordan Feldstein. Roc Nation, a joint venture of Jay-Z and Live Nation Entertainment, partnered with Feldstein’s Career Artist Management in 2016. At the time, Roc Nation says it took out a “key man” life [...]

  • mike-posner

    Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A Real Good Kid'

    From the tone of such hits as his 2010 debut “Cooler Than Me” and 2015’s  “I Took A Pill In Ibiza,” singing, songwriting pop-hop beardo Mike Posner had a seemingly breezy take on life, love and responsibility. If you could have squeezed together the two Justins — Timberlake and Bieber (Posner has written for the latter) [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content