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 Column

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.


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