Reports that “American Idol” is returning to television, with a new home at ABC, has left many in the industry scratching their heads. After all, it was barely a year ago when the show received a massive two-night sendoff that brought back the best — and worst — of the show’s contestants over a 15-year run at Fox.
Among the flummoxed is former “Idol” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who tells Variety, “They got their wish, but it feels a little too soon to bring it back.”
Lythgoe, who EPs another longtime Fox staple, “So You Think You Can Dance,” worked on “Idol” from 2002 to 2008 and again from 2010 through 2016. He was also the creative driver behind the penultimate finale in April 2016. He says that while he still “loves the show,” he believes you resurrect a series “when there is public demand that it come back.”
The economics of the show, which in later seasons saw conflated costs of location shooting (auditions, the contestants’ home towns) and judges’ salaries (Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez were reportedly paid upwards of $15 million each), he notes, “was the reason why they let ‘Idol’ go — the [viewership numbers] were great; certainly by today’s standards.”
For eight consecutive seasons, beginning in 2003-04, “Idol” was the highest-rated show on television, averaging a 12.4 rating among the 18-49 demographic and 36.4 million total viewers at its peak in 2006, according to Nielsen live-plus-same day numbers.
Lythgoe offers that a new network could commit to a “short run” or produce the show — which ended in May, 2016 — in-house to “keep costs down.”
At the same time, Lythgoe gives credit to ABC for “looking after its shows, like ‘Dancing With the Stars,'” which is currently in its 24th season, as well as FremantleMedia’s Trish Kinane, who he says “did a good job” with “Idol’s” final seasons. “I’m delighted for them if they bring it back, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again. Hopefully they find some new angles for ‘Idol.'”
As for his own involvement, Lythgoe says he has not been contacted by “Idol” stakeholders Fremantle and Core Media.