Can 'American Idol' Be Rebooted?

Amidst the spate of revitalized TV shows, including Twin Peaks on Showtime, The X-Files on Fox and upcoming MacGyver on CBS, one has to wonder if American Idol, the single biggest ratings phenomenon of the newish century, can be brought back.

The topic was kicked around during an HRTS “State of the Industry” panel on non-scripted television, and Trish Kinane, president of entertainment programming at FremantleMedia North America and an exec producer on America’s Got Talent (and former Idol exec producer to boot), definitely did not rule out the possibility.

Idol has finished for the moment,” she said. “Who knows, as Ryan [Seacrest] said at end of the finale,” in terms of it coming back.

The panel also featured Mike Darnell, president, Warner Bros. unscripted and alternative TV, who was Fox’s president of alternative programming when Idol ruled television. He had some perspective on the inevitable ratings decline for such a show. Darnell used a giant ocean liner to illustrate his point. “Something that huge—once it starts to go down, it’s almost impossible to get back up,” he said. “As quickly as it went up it just starts to go down."

The panel also featured Paul Telegdy, NBC entertainment president of alternative and late night; Sean Perry, co-department head, non-scripted, WME; and Charlie Corwin, co-CEO, Endemol Shine North America. Michael Schneider of Indiewire moderated. The session delved into the age of consolidation among unscripted producers, the panelists agreeing that the ideal scenario for hit-making involves an acquired company retaining its independent spirit while enjoying the scale of the conglomerate.

Corwin said he thought the consolidation was mostly done for the time being. “Most companies of a certain size have been merged or acquired,” he said, while Perry predicted “another wave” a few years down the road.

Telegdy spoke of “shaking up” ratings workhorse The Voice, with Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys coming on as judges. Telegdy referred to Cyrus as a “polarizing but very interesting artist,” whom he quipped would be “appropriately dressed at all times.” Telegdy said the women would “counterbalance the Blake [Shelton] and Adam [Levine] Show.”

Telegdy was asked if NBC’s The Apprentice played a role in elevating former host Donald Trump to his position as GOP frontrunner in the president’s race.  He assumed some responsibility for the rise of the Donald, saying Apprentice’s producers had created “a phenomenal television personality.”

“I don’t think that where Donald is in this campaign is any surprise to anyone who worked with him,” he added.

An Englishman, Telegdy joked that, unlike Trump’s detractors in the U.S., “I’ve got somewhere else I can go" if Trump secures the presidency.

The producers spoke of the challenge of coming up with new concepts in a crowded content marketplace. Shock value has largely been lost to the internet, but the shows putting the "real" in reality tend to stand the best chance of breaking out. “They want authentic, they want it real,” said Kinane. “They can smell it when it is.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.