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BC Beat

Fox Looks at Changing 'Idol’ Auditions

There are still 20 contestants remaining in this season’s cycle of American Idol, but Fox executives are already looking ahead to changes for next year.

Preston Beckman, the network’s executive VP of strategic program planning and research, says he wants to see adjustments to the audition shows that kick off the ratings behemoth every year.

“It won’t necessarily be anything radical; we just have to figure out how to start the show next year,” says Beckman, who’s looking for a way to stem a ratings drop the network saw last month. “The early part saw some erosion and then we got to Hollywood.”

That “erosion” includes this year’s premiere, which earned a 14.4 rating in the adult 18-49 demo, down from a 16.1 last year. Viewership also dipped from 38 million to 34.5 million—numbers that nevertheless make every other network salivate.

Beckman says it is far too early to talk about any specific changes, but says the show is heavily tested through market research and that will help guide the plans. This year the show has been shamelessly pushing the level of the talent pool after last year’s Sanjaya Malakar sideshow.

But he’s not concerned about the franchise overall, which continues to dominate in its seventh season.

“The good news is there is still enormous sentiment for the show,” he says. “If you listen to the audience, you will generally be fine.”

Live & Clean

It’s official: Chris Cuomo is a consummate pro.

Not only did the Good Morning America newsreader confront his fear of heights on live TV last week by getting himself rigged with a stunt cable and dropped from a 51-story casino for the ABC morning show’s “I Dare You” series. He also managed to do it without cursing a blue streak on the way down.

That can’t have been far from the minds of GMA’s producers. After all, Diane Keaton dropped an F-bomb on GMA last month, followed only weeks later by Jane Fonda, who C-bombed NBC’s Today.

So we wondered: Did GMA air Cuomo’s jump on a tape-delay—just in case?

“All live. No delay,” said GMA spokeswoman Bridgette Maney. “We’re a news program and do not air on a delay.”

Of course, taped inserts are a staple of news shows; even some breaking news events—say, a bomb diffusion or hostage situation—are taped to protect viewer sensibilities. “There may have been some interest in a story about overcoming a fear of heights,” one news ethicist told B&C. “But why live, other than the thrill element?”

Because, like most of what airs on GMA, the “I Dare You” segments are meant to air live, says Maney. “Chris is a television professional,” she adds. “Even in tackling his most extreme fear of heights, we had no worries that he would do or say anything inappropriate.”

Botox Diaries

To prepare for his upcoming appearance on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, comedian/magician Penn Jillette is employing the black magic of Botox injections to make his wrinkles disappear—and chronicling the treatment on Penn Says!, his Web series on Sony’s

So why did Jillette, 52, decide to go under the needle? “I didn’t really decide,” he tells B&C. “My manager and my wife said I should do it.”

Seems he was won over by the argument that the injections—which he doesn’t plan to continue after they wear off in a few months—would reduce the time he’d have to spend in the makeup chair.

“I don’t look in the mirror very much,” he adds. “You can cover my face with Magic Marker—I wouldn’t notice. But they say it looks better [with the Botox].”

It isn’t the first time Jillette has tackled the subject of plastic surgery. In one episode of his Showtime series Bullshit!, he and partner Teller explore the stay-young industry, ultimately concluding that we should embrace the inevitability of growing old.

At the same time, he says, “We make it clear in the plastic surgery show that people should do whatever they want with their bodies. I have a friend who put silicon in his head to make it look like he had horns.”

With Ben Grossman, John Eggerton and Alex Weprin