Ideal, not idle summer for Fox

With more than one-fifth of American households tuning in to the finale American Idol
last Wednesday, Fox's summer blockbuster garnered the biggest audience share the network has ever had in the 18-49 demographic.

Although the show was intended for the young audiences Fox prefers, the last episode dominated the 8-10 p.m. ET time slot with a whopping 12.5 rating/21 share in households. It was first in all the key Nielsen Media Research categories as well—even adults 50-plus, though tied with CBS in that demo. Not only was that good news for Fox, but the show gave a summer-long platform for promoting Fox's fall season, which could use the buzz.

Wednesday's finale was Fox's second-highest-rated entertainment program in total viewers and in adults 18-49 but was unable to topple its champ, the finale of Beverly Hills 90210
on May 25, 1994. Sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, also have outstripped Idol's performance.

Still, the show was a summer phenom, with all the network morning news shows covering Texan Kelly Clarkson's win. Runner-up Justin Guarini appeared on NBC Today
show last Thursday, and Clarkson gave a live concert to Today
viewers and Rockefeller Center visitors on Friday.

The format, imported from Great Britain (where the show was called Pop Idol), caught Americans' attention, perhaps because it was summer and there wasn't much else to look at. "Based on the experience in the U.K., we hoped it would be a strong summer series for us," said Fox spokesman Scott Grogin, "but there was no way anyone could expect the type of response that we got."

The show's producers don't intend to let the American public forget and plan American Idol II
for first quarter 2003. Auditions will start soon in cities nationwide, said executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz. The show may see some changes, she said, including more emphasis on the competitors' personal lives and possibly the addition of a fourth judge to the current roster of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and America's favorite villain, Simon Cowell.

FremantleMedia CEO Tony Cohen noted that the show already has been done to great acclaim in the South Africa and Poland and Fremantle plans to introduce it soon in Germany and Belgium.

American Idol
also demonstrated how successful product placement can be. Coca-Cola and Ford are both "extremely happy with how they were integrated into the show," Frot-Coutaz said.

The voting-by-phone aspect proved popular, with more than 100 million votes by the time the show wrapped. That's more votes than were cast in the last U.S. presidential election, Cohen pointed out.

Idol's success guarantees copycats. CBS plans a new version of Star Search, Ed McMahon's talent show that ran from 1983 to 1995. It's the show most likely to have inspired Idol's U.K. producers, so it's hard to say which show is copying which, but Idol's success suggests Star Search
could find a big, new audience.

USA Network plans Nashville Star, with budding singer/songwriters competing for a recording deal with Universal Records, a corporate cousin of the cable network. Details on contestants' personal lives and aspirations will be woven into the show.

Unlike American Idol's, the winner will be selected by judges with some fan participation. Nashville Star, slated to air the first half of 2003, is a collaboration of three Universal properties: USA Network, Universal Music Group and Reveille, a USA-backed production company.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.