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A Very Up (And Maybe Down) Week For Fox Singing Shows

Ten year old shows that lose their biggest star and basically reboot are just not supposed to do what American Idol did Wednesday night, or all season for that matter.The Idol finale Wednesday night between that country kid and one of those blonde girls was up 9% in the demo over last year. And that is remarkable. For the season, according to the most recent numbers provided by a (hopefully giddy) Fox PR department, the show was off just 5% from last year. That, too, is a big win for Fox.

You need to step back and put this in context to realize how rule-breaking these numbers are. This show is 10 years old, and outside of a tweak here and there, basically hasn’t changed much. If you understand television at all, you know that TV shows just don’t last that long, period.

Now, add in the fact that this year you lost the show’s biggest draw (contestants aside), Simon Cowell. Both the missus and I bailed out of Idol weeks ago, frankly bored by the contestants this time around. As the wife said just last night, “I probably would still be watching this year if Simon were around.” I agreed. But apparently, we were in the minority. Way in the minority.

That collective f-bomb you heard Thursday morning in Hollywood was coming from offices at NBC, CBS and ABC after the Idol finale numbers came through. Since no one knows why TV works, it’s hard to say who deserves the credit, but clearly the casting of J-Lo and Steven Tyler was inspired, Fox’s marketing clicked and perhaps most importantly, the gutsy decision to move the show to Wednesdays and Thursdays has to go down as one of the best in recent years. We all found out one thing for certain this year: American Idol is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Ironically, perhaps its biggest threat comes from its own network, when X-Factor rolls out this fall. I have written multiple times about how great the format is when I have seen it in England, and if Fox sticks to the same feel, the show could actually hurt Idol by out-shining the old warhorse.

But X-Factor may have taken a blow this week in my mind, if indeed Cheryl Cole is out as a judge. I think she would have been a huge star in the United States, the kind of fresh blood this show needs. Bringing back Paula Abdul is a very polarizing move - many TV execs think it is stupid and will make the show seem like an Idol throwback, while others think it is smart and sets X-Factor up as Idol insurance for Fox if the veteran ever begins to really waver.

Whatever happens behind the scenes - and X-Factor has apparently already been rife with drama just casting the judges - Cole would have been a great addition both to the show and to the U.S. celebrity scene. While there is zero way to measure this, I think her departure is a missed opportunity for Fox.

Then again, with Idol defying all the odds, the network probably isn’t that concerned right at this moment. Because if I were them, I would already be on my third glass of champagne.