Asked Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour whether Fox, which canceled “Idol” two years ago, or ABC, which is paying a hefty sum to bring the show back, had made a serious mistake, Fox Television Group co-CEO Dana Walden responded, “ABC” — then added, “I’m joking.”
Walden unpacked Fox’s decision-making process around “Idol” — both the decision to let the franchise go, and its bid to land the revival of the show, which ultimately went to ABC.
“‘American Idol’ was an extremely expensive show,” Walden said. When she and co-CEO Gary Newman took over the network in 2015, ratings for the show — which had enjoyed a lengthy run as television’s highest-ratings king — were in a steep decline. “The economics were terrible at that moment. We spent a lot of time talking with [producer] Fremantle about what were the solutions to that problem. Can we cut the costs of this show? And while they were open to doing some minor cosmetic trims, they were very worried about doing anything that would disrupt the chemistry of that panel. So we were locked into those judges, who were excellent, but again contributed to the very high cost of that show.”
Of the reboot, Walden said, “Then the question was, would you ever like to have ‘American Idol’ back?’ Yes. Did we want it back a year or two [after it ended]? No. We felt like that was very fraudulent to our viewers.” She added, “What happened beyond that was that we were a little bit back on our heels because we didn’t want it back so soon.”
The discussion of “Idol” came as Walden and Fox reality-programming chief Rob Wade provided new details on “The Four,” the new singing competition series that the network began to fast-track in May after ABC landed “Idol.”
“Since I’ve been here, it’s one of the cleanest formats I’ve seen,” said Wade, who joined the network earlier this year after a long run shepherding ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” He added, “It’s basically like ‘Game of Thrones,’ with better singing and less nudity.”
“The Four” is a variation on traditional singing competitions, beginning with four finalists. In subsequent weeks, contestants emerge to challenge those finalists for their roles. Wade said that the series’ first season will be a “truncated” run, adding, “This is an experiment.”
Walden, in her opening remarks, hinted that the network will not be dropping the same enormous sums on onscreen talent that NBC has for “The Voice,” which recently secured Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson for upcoming seasons, and ABC has for “Idol,” where Katy Perry is set to make $25 million for a single season.
“They’ve become much more about celebrity panels and much less about star making,” Walden said of the current crop of singing competitions in her opening remarks.
Walden, Wade, and Fox Entertainment president David Madden also fielded questions on several other Fox projects:
• Walden defended the diversity record of Chris Carter’s upcoming season of “The X-Files.” The show had been criticized for having only two female directors in its 207-episode run. Walden said that next season will feature two female directors and two female writers. “I don’t want to make any excuses for anyone,” Walden said, adding that for a show as long-running as “The X-Files,” “The tendency is to want to rely on the people who helped you on the original.”
• Madden said that he and Walden recently met with “Wayward Pines” creator M. Night Shyamalan “about what a third season could be.” He said that the network is scheduled to meet with Shyamalan again in the coming weeks.
• Walden said the network has met with the producers of “24” about a possible revival. “They have a really exciting idea that is really compelling, but I think we’re at very early stages.”