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Less than a week after making an offer on American Idol, ABC has officially snapped up rights to the storied singing competition — putting an end to several months of speculation about if (and where) the former Fox phenomenon would return to TV for the coming season.
The network announced its formal acquisition of Idol early Tuesday morning, ahead of the coming days’ renewals and series pick-ups and next week’s 2017-18 season scheduling announcements.
It’s great news for ABC, which takes Idol after interest from both Fox and NBC, but it’s a coup for FremantleMedia. The Idol producers have been eager to place the show elsewhere after Fox decided to end its run after 15 seasons. But the months following its April 2016 ender saw little interest. Heat around a potential Idol revival only picked up this February.
“American Idol on ABC…that has a nice ring to it,” said Ben Sherwood, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC. “Idol is an entertainment icon, and now it will air where it belongs, in ABC’s lineup of addictive fan favorites alongside Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor. America, get ready for the return of a bigger, bolder and better-than-ever Idol.”
Details on the what the ABC Idol will look like are relatively slim at this time. Its revival news comes with no on-camera talent attached, but that will likely change rather quickly. Idol questions will be the most pressing on May 16, when the network speaks with reporters and Madison Avenue buyers at its annual upfront presentation.
“American Idol is a pop-culture staple that left the air too soon,” said Channing Dungey, president of ABC Entertainment. “ABC is the right home to reignite the fan base. We are thrilled viewers will once again share in these inspiring stories of people realizing their dreams.”
It’s another aggressive move for ABC’s alternative department. Topped by Rob Mills, the outfit has been snatching up projects — a boy band competition, the new Gong Show and several other nostalgic game show revivals among them. But most new efforts have been focused on the summer. Idol is expected to join such venerable reality properties as Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor franchise in ABC’s regular season.
The network spent years looking for its own answer to Idol, especially after NBC found singing competition success in The Voice. But both big swing efforts, Rising Star and Duets, fell flat with viewers.
Idol’s value as a TV property cannot be understated. At its height, the competition averaged 31 million weekly viewers (for each of two telecasts!) on Fox. Idol ranked No. 1 in adults 18-49 for seven consecutive seasons, its season premieres regularly out-rating the Oscars as the biggest entertainment telecasts of the year. Even at its humbled end, when years of steep ratings deterioration prompted its cancellation, it was a ratings powerhouse. The final season of averaged a 3.0 rating among adults 18-49 and 11.5 million viewers viewers once Nielsen’s live-plus-seven day ratings were tallied.
Those dependable numbers, without the skyrocketing price tag of talent like host Ryan Seacrest and Jennifer Lopez in Idol’s later Fox years, are why ABC was eager to come on board. The network may be the home to some of TV’s highest-rated entertainment properties, such as Modern Family and Grey’s Anatomy, but its hits are aging. And its lack of most sports programming, including any NFL thanks to corporate cable sibling ESPN, has left it at No. 4 across the broadcast networks for the past year.
As for talent, it is not out of the question that some previous on-camera personalities could return. Seacrest, who just took a Disney gig as Kelly Ripa’s new full-time Live! co-host, seemingly has a full plate. But the former host has been vocal about his affection for the show, and famously ended the 2016 Fox finale with a cryptic “goodbye for now.”
As of Monday, Seacrest had joked about the potential of an Idol return during his new daytime show, though sources tell The Hollywood Reporter there have been no active talks just yet.
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