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‘American Idol’ Prepares for Season 3 Pickup, Judges Lineup Still in Flux

ABC is preparing to unveil a third-season pickup for “American Idol” at its 2019-2020 season schedule presentation to advertisers on Tuesday, but the lineup behind the judges’ table is still a work in progress.

ABC and FremantleMedia North America have only recently started negotiations on possible new talent deals for “Idol” judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. Perry made headlines in 2017 when she signed on for an eye-popping $25 million a year.

It’s understood that ABC has told Fremantle it hopes to make “Idol” a long-term network franchise but only if the current cost structure can come down. “Idol” has performed credibly but not spectacularly for ABC this season. ABC brought Fremantle’s durable competition franchise back to U.S. primetime in 2018, less than two years after the show wrapped a storied 14-year run on Fox in 2016.

In Live+7 through April 21, “Idol’s” two hour Sunday installment is averaging a 1.7 rating in adults 18-49 and 8.9 million viewers, ranking it as the second-highest rated unscripted series on ABC behind “The Bachelor.” The Monday episodes are close behind with a 1.5 rating and 8.3 million viewers.

ABC and Fremantle felt little urgency to begin talks with the current “Idol” trio as the upfronts approached in part because there were no plans to give the show much of a plug at ABC’s presentation at David Geffen Hall on Tuesday.

But it is nonetheless a sign that ABC and Fremantle are having a larger conversation about the show’s future. ABC is said to be pushing for across the board cost reductions, including but not limited to the paychecks of key talent. “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest is believed to be under a long-term deal.

ABC has a strong incentive to keep “Idol” intact on its schedule as the show fills up a lot of real estate for the Alphabet at a time when the network has its share of holes in the schedule.

ABC is also in the midst of a massive management shakeup following Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Karey Burke, formerly of Freeform, took the reins of ABC Entertainment last November while Disney Television Studios/ABC Entertainment chairman Dana Walden didn’t formally ascend to her post, overseeing the network and Disney’s TV production operations, until March.

Given all the changes, it’s no surprise that there’s chatter that ABC brass in general have been underwhelmed by the pilot slate this year. That was also signaled by ABC’s quick move on Saturday to buy back drama pilot “Emergence” that ABC Studios produced for NBC this year after NBC passed on giving it a series order.

To date, ABC has ordered two comedies — Kenya Barris’ “Mixed-ish” and domestic vehicle “United We Fall” — and three dramas in addition to “Emergence.”

Joe Otterson contributed to this report.

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