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‘The Four’: Fox Reality Chief Reveals New Singing-Competition Details

Fox’s new singing competition “The Four” is still a work in progress. Officially ordered to series Tuesday, the show has not yet secured on-screen talent, a premiere date, or even a number of episodes for its Season 1 run.

Development on “The Four” was accelerated in May, after Fox was outbid by ABC for the reboot of “American Idol.” In her Television Critics Association press tour executive session Tuesday, Fox Television Group co-CEO Dana Walden announced the series order, and sought to set the new project apart from other singing competitions such as “Idol” and “The Voice.” Of “Idol,” which recently secured Katy Perry to serve as a judge on its new season for $25 million, and other such shows, Walden said, “They’ve become much more about celebrity panels and much less about star making.”

Speaking to Variety Tuesday, Fox’s top reality-programming executive Rob Wade — who joined the network earlier this year — discussed the direction of his first big swing at his new job.

Dana Walden said that you were unlikely to put this show up against “Idol” or “The Voice.” Does that mean it’s going to premiere in summer?
It gives us summer. There’s potential for the New Year. It could be as late as next fall if we decide to go there. I think what we have to do with this is make sure we set the right panel, that the format works clearly, that we have the right partnerships in place. I’ve done “X-Factor” and “Dancing With the Stars.” Those shows were very buttoned up. Mostly I’m just glad we’re not just rushing to a date, backing into a date. The show comes first, then we work out the schedule afterwards.

Are you worried about the show getting swamped by all the other singing competitions?
Not really. The truth of the matter is, coming to the job and getting my feet under the table — five months sounds like a long time, but it’s not. And this is the first thing that came through the door that I genuinely was like, “Oh, this is really good.” You don’t often get that, I’m learning, as you take a hundred pitches. It wasn’t, “Oh, we need a singing show.” It could have been a dance show that I liked or a variety show that I liked or a dating show that I liked.

How many episodes are you looking at for the first season?
I think it could be anywhere between four and eight. It’s very different. I know that the natural instinct would be to go all “Idol” or “Voice” [in season length], but this is different. It’s an event that’s going to go on for a short amount of time. I don’t think you could lengthen it out. In a way it could be never-ending. But you don’t want it to be like that. You want there to be pressure on America and the judges to find a star in a short amount of time. I think that’s what works best.

You all also talked about not wanting the show to be too focused on star panelists. Where is the balance? Does it involve paying $25 million?
Well, I think $25 million is over a very long run. You have to remember, that figure is extremely high, but also over a very long run. This is truncated. So we’re not going to get anywhere near that total figure. But I think we want to be competitive. If it’s someone we feel has a great profile and could be a team leader and could really take a star to the next level, and we like them and they want to do the show, then we’re not just going to be paying small potatoes. We’re in this for real. If it’s the right name, we’ll have to go to negotiations.

Will the panelists change from season to season?
It could change from season to season. I was thinking about that the other day, actually. If the chemistry’s going great, you don’t want to disrupt it too much. But I think what they’ve done great on “The Voice” is change one or two people each season. I do like that format. We’ll see who we get.

What else are you looking for to fill the unscripted pipeline?
Obviously “Idol” has gone, but that’s given me a lot of runway, a lot of opportunity. So I can play in a lot of spaces. We’re looking at the dating space, singing, dating, variety, social experiment. I know those are very broad buckets, but my background is very much what I call light entertainment, so I’m very much looking in those spaces. I’m trying to find shows that will be today’s hits. Imagine being 18, 19, 20 nowadays. What’s coming out? What’s yours? I want shows that appeal to a broad audience of people of all ages. I really want to give people a new hit.

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