ABC Announces Plan To Revive 'American Idol'

May 9, 2017
Originally published on May 9, 2017 9:31 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It seems like it was only yesterday that my friends here on the show said goodbye to "American Idol."

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ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Fifteen years of bad tryouts.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Let my people go.

MCEVERS: Catty judges.

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SIMON COWELL: You are where you are now for one reason and one reason only - you are a loser.

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SHAPIRO: And lots of over-the-top performances.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Vocalizing).

MCEVERS: Well, guess what. That goodbye in April of last year was premature. ABC announced today it is reviving "American Idol," calling it a pop culture staple that left the air too soon. The singing competition ran on Fox and famously launched the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. But Fox cancelled the show amid declining ratings and sagging pop culture status. Here to explain why ABC might want to bring it back is NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans.

Hi, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.

MCEVERS: So I'm going to ask the question that a lot of people in social media are asking right now. Why won't this show die?

DEGGANS: (Laughter) I know it's like Dracula or something.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: The un-dead show.

DEGGANS: You can't put it down, or "The Godfather." You're - just when I thought it was out, they bring it back in. But my short answer is advertisers and brand recognition. Next week, we're going to have this thing called the TV upfronts where the broadcast networks go to advertisers and they sell advertising spots for the TV season that's about to come. And as much as sophisticated media consumers like you and I want to see new stuff and new stories, advertisers like well-established brands and names that they're familiar with. So this is going to help ABC with the upfronts.

ABC has been trying to develop its own singing competitions, and they haven't had a lot of success there. But they have had some success in reviving these old game shows like "Match Game" or "To Tell The Truth." And they're even doing "The Gong Show." They've got my Mike Myers playing this character who's going to actually host the show, British - a fake British comedian.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

DEGGANS: So - I know - so there's a sense that in a fragmented media universe, these brand names that people recognize like "American Idol" or "Gong Show" or "Match Game," they have more value than ever.

MCEVERS: ABC executives have promised a bigger, bolder, better-than-ever "American Idol." Is that possible?

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: That's a good question. You know, it seems to me like ABC is in this weird position, right? If they change the show too much, it's not really going to look or feel like "Idol." But if they don't change it enough, it's going to feel just like that same old tired show that Fox cancelled last year. We don't know if Ryan Seacrest is coming back as host, and he hosted the old "Idol" for 15 seasons. He's the most visible connection to the old show.

The real question is, what kind of show is ABC going to make? Because "American Idol" focused on the singers. And it was successful for a while but then declined. And the new hot singing show is NBC's "The Voice," which focuses on the celebrity judges. And that makes sense. You know, think about it. I mean, people have heard of people from "Idol" who've gone onto great success like Kelly Clarkson or Jennifer Hudson. But how many people can name anybody who's won NBC's "The Voice?"

MCEVERS: Right. What is the audience for a show like this? I mean, there are a ton of "Idol" fans out there just waiting around for it to come back?

DEGGANS: Well, as you said before, not if you judge by social media because there's a lot of people out there saying they did not ask for this.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: But it's interesting. ABC has had success with its competition shows like "The Bachelor" and "Dancing With The Stars," with middle-age female viewers. So you might think that "American Idol" would be good with that demographic. But the show, it also has to kind of look hip for young people and for people who really like music. And I'm sure they want to spend less on the show because Ryan Seacrest was supposedly even getting something like $15 million a year to host "Idol." The real question, at a time when there's so much competition for viewers, can ABC revive this important brand that everybody knows that could potentially be another big hit for them?

MCEVERS: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, thank you.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF PICKIN' ON SERIES SONG, "SINCE U BEEN GONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.