TelevisionWeek columnist and deputy editor Josef Adalian applies his decades of experience covering the television industry to deliver analysis readers can't find anywhere else.

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Josef Adalian

August 2008 Archives

Unbridled ‘Idol’ Speculation

August 10, 2008 8:45 PM

Last week’s news that Nigel Lythgoe would be stepping down from his role as executive producer of “American Idol” filled me with many emotions.

Dread. Terror. An overwhelming sense of doom, even.

It’s not that I was surprised by the announcement. Thanks to reporting from TelevisionWeek’s Chris Pursell, anyone who was paying attention had known for a month that Mr. Lythgoe was preparing to move on.

I’m also not worried about “Idol” somehow falling apart without Mr. Lythgoe’s hands-on involvement. Nothing against the guy, but as long as Simon Cowell’s sitting up there with his Coke glass, all snarky and such, I will remain a fan.

No, what freaked me out about the official confirmation of his departure is that it will be seized upon by the entertainment press corps as an excuse to crank up the Idle Speculation And Pontification machine even earlier than usual.

Instead of waiting until the show’s annual January return, reporters who cover TV now have an excuse—as if they really needed one—to begin an immediate assessment of the state of the (“Idol”) union.

As you read this, I have no doubt that some scoop-hungry reporter somewhere is putting the finishing touches on an exhaustive essay detailing just what changes must be made to “American Idol” in order to keep the show healthy.

Doubt me? Google “American Idol” and “changes.” You’ll get more than 8 million hits.

Even before Mr. Lythgoe hit the road, this winter promised to be a banner year for the ISAP machine. That’s because ratings for “Idol” were down—gasp!—about 7% last season.

Even though that mirrored the overall 2007-08 Nielsen decline for the major networks, it was enough of a dip to prompt countless stories last spring asking if the show was “past its peak” (AP via CNN.com) or had “lost its mojo” (ABCNews.com). You just know the ISAP machinery was already gearing up to revisit the matter in January.

But now, with Mr. Lythgoe out, why wait until then?

There are stories to be written about whether Mr. Lythgoe’s decision to leave “Idol” was completely voluntary. Or whether Fox and the show’s production entities ought to recruit an outsider to add some pep to the “Idol” franchise (maybe Randy Jackson can suggest someone from his red-hot MTV show “America’s Best Dance Crew”).

An enterprising reporter wouldn’t have difficulty finding some talking head to suggest that Fox shorten the amount of time it spends on the audition rounds. Or raise the age limit to 40. Or lower it to 12. What about product placement? Is it out of control?

For the less ethically constrained among us, it probably would be easy to come up with an excuse to go with the latest rumor about Paula Abdul being kicked off the show (or maybe Ryan Seacrest will feel the “love” of the tabs this year?).

And since this is an election year, why not explore the possibility that “Idol” is too dependent on foreign … producers?

Ugh. Just thinking about the flood of “Idol”-centric stories to come is enough to make me wish Elisabeth Murdoch had never picked up the phone and told Daddy about the raging success of the U.K.’s “Pop Idol.”

And yet I don’t blame media reporters for jumping at the chance to write about “American Idol.” With so many publications barely clinging to life these days, it’s hard to begrudge the instinct to write about matters one knows will drive up Web traffic or get Matt Drudge to take notice and grant your story a link.

Some editor at TVWeek is probably thinking of a way to get a reporter here to do just that. (Five words, guys: Hell no, we won’t go.)

Likewise, while I’m sure Fox and the producers of “Idol” long ago tired of unsolicited advice regarding their juggernaut, I’m equally certain they’re just amazed that people are still obsessed with a TV series that premiered all the way back in 2002. You don’t see Entertainment Weekly doing many insta-polls on cast changes to “CSI: Miami,” do you?

As for me, I don’t have time to wrack my brain trying to figure out some new way to write about the future of “Idol.” For one thing, I’m far too busy preparing my list of suggestions for how the “Big Brother” brain trust can shake things up next summer.

Remaking the Remake

August 3, 2008 8:54 PM

TV’s track record for remaking its past hits is pretty awful. So what do the networks have in store for the coming months? More remakes, of course.

NBC is bringing back “Knight Rider.” The CW is revisiting “Beverly Hills, 90210.” ABC is taking another stab at “Cupid” (with Rob Thomas, the same producer who earlier this year was working on the new “90210”!) And word leaked out last week that CBS is mulling a return to “The Streets of San Francisco.”

Josef Adalian

RETREADS The CW's "90210," above, and NBC's "Knight Rider" are just the latest entries in the remaking-vintage-TV-series derby.

You’d think the quick fadeout for last fall’s much-hyped remake of “Bionic Woman” would result in the networks at least waiting a year or two before jumping back on the revival bandwagon. Executives also could heed the warnings provided by the short lifespans for remakes of “Night Stalker,” “Family Affair,” “The Fugitive” or “Fantasy Island.”

But TV is no business for the faint of heart.

Network suits probably figure that, since most new shows fail anyway, there’s no harm in crapping out with a remake. And indeed, as the strong premiere numbers for “Bionic Woman” and last spring’s “Knight Rider” back-door pilot point out, reimagining a well-known brand makes it easier to at least get audiences to check out your first episode.

Since there seems to be no stopping the networks’ love affair with revisiting the past, the least I can do is play along. Here are seven shows (and a few bonus choices) the networks ought to consider resurrecting in one form or another:

Married ... With Children”: Subtle it wasn’t. But almost as much as “The Simpsons,” the Bundy clan helped turn Fox into a legitimate network. While critics loathed “Married,” its anti-Cosby take on family life was a welcome respite from the era’s fairy-tale portrayals of raising kids. With the family comedy all but extinct in 2008, a new Bundy brood could be a great way to get younger viewers reacquainted with the format. I’m nominating either Dane Cook or Bernie Mac to play Al Bundy.

Quantum Leap”: This is the 1980s show Ben Silverman needs to bring back. TV is sorely lacking a good-time-travel adventure, not to mention sci-fi/fantasy shows that don’t require viewers to invest all of their free time trying to figure out producers’ elaborately constructed mythologies. (That’s no knock on “Lost,” which, if you ask me, is just about the most amazing TV experience of all time.)

The premise of “Leap”—our hero jumps into the bodies of various people throughout the course of history, all in an attempt to right some wrong—remains just as cool as it was back in the Reagan era. And thanks to dramatic advances in computer-generated graphics, it would be easy to accurately re-create various historic locales.

In addition to being fun, “Leap” also was quietly educational. Given the networks’ wholesale abandonment of the family hour, reviving this show would score some brownie points for the network that brought it back.

Eight Is Enough”: If “90210” works, The CW should try to bring back this cheesy gem about a very large brood. One of The WB’s longest-running hits was “7th Heaven,” and family shows are few and far between these days. Why not serve up a multicultural take on the concept, making mom and dad from different ethnic backgrounds? A real-life version, “Jon and Kate Plus Eight,” has been a major hit for TLC. There’s a plate of homemade wishes on the kitchen windowsill waiting for the network that gets this one right.

Good Times”: The networks have pretty much abandoned the notion of shows with largely nonwhite casts. Ditto the idea of main characters who actually have to struggle to make ends meet. Remaking Norman Lear’s underappreciated 1970s comedy would fill two voids at once.

While Jimmie “J.J.” Walker’s overly broad antics eventually took over the show, at its best, “Good Times” offered an honest portrayal of how family bonds and friendships can help people survive the toughest of circumstances. The same theme applied to “Chico and the Man,” another 1970s half-hour that boldly tackled matters of class, and one that would be equally worthy of revisiting.

Given the awful state of the economy, shows about struggle might find a receptive audience in 2008—if networks can only get over their instinctual desire to serve up escapist fare.

James at 15”: As ABC Family has discovered this summer with “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” shows that deal semi-realistically with adolescent life can draw a big crowd. While “James” wasn’t a big hit—it lasted two seasons—the show bravely tackled teen topics with sensitivity and humor. Broadcasters haven’t had much luck with teen shows in recent years (R.I.P., “My So-Called Life” and “Life as We Know It”). So maybe this one goes to cable. ABC Family might be smart to develop “James” as a male-centric companion to its latest hit.

Happy Days”: Technically, this legendary half-hour has already been remade. It was called “That ’70s Show.” But since every generation deserves its own teen comedy, why not bring back the “Happy Days” brand name, but set things in the 1980s instead of the ’50s?

Dynasty” or “Dallas”: CBS needs to find its own “Desperate Housewives.” Since it seems unwilling to give promising soaps such as “Cane” a chance, maybe it ought to just revive one of the megasuccessful soaps of the 1980s. While “Dallas” is more closely associated with the Eye’s brand, the over-the-top tone of “Dynasty” would be more welcome in prime time. And hey, Heather Locklear isn’t doing much these days.