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Fox Chief on ‘American Idol’: Quick Revival Would Have Been ‘Fraudulent’ After Farewell Season Promotion

Variety logo Variety 5/15/2017 Cynthia Littleton
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Fox executives don’t relish the idea of seeing “American Idol” return to the airwaves on ABC next season. But they don’t regret their decision that talent competition needed to rest a few more years before it could come home to Fox.

“Yes it feels bad knowing it’s coming back on another network,” Fox Television Group chairman Dana Walden told reporters Monday during a conference call to talk up Fox’s fall schedule. “It’s obviously a tough one for us. We loved ‘American Idol.’ It’s so connected to the Fox brand. It was associated with a tremendous amount of success for everyone involved for 15 years.”

That said, Walden detailed Fox’s conversations with “Idol” producer FremantleMedia North America during the past year. In the end, the two companies had different visions of what the trajectory of a revival should be and how a new-model “Idol” should be presented. Fox was willing to talk to Fremantle about bring the show back in a new form in 2020, but the production company was determined to get the show back on the air as soon as possible. Walden said executives felt they couldn’t move that fast given all the focus on “Idol’s” farewell season in 2016.

“It would be extremely fraudulent to bring the show back quickly,” Walden said. “We felt that our fans would not appreciate being told one thing and then have the show brought back right away,” Walden said. Fremantle “wanted the show back on the air and they saw an opportunity at ABC.”

Walden said Fremantle had resisted their efforts to make changes to the format and panel of “Idol” before Fox made the decision to bring the show to a close in 2016. The show’s ratings had dropped 70% over four years. “They felt they didn’t want to take significant (budget) trims. They didn’t want to test out a new panel,” Walden said. “They ultimately said to us they would rather rest the show than make any changes and try out of a different panel.”

Discussions during the past year with Fremantle on a potential revival were focused on “giving them the opportunity to make some changes to present the next generation of ‘Idol,’ ” Walden said. She also noted that the reason for Fremantle’s urgency was evident in the recent earnings of parent company RTL, which took a hit from the lack of “Idol” in the U.S. this past year. “They lost revenue from not having the show in in the U.S.,” she said. “That’s meaningful when you’re running a public company.”

When word first surfaced in Variety that NBC was in talks to revive “Idol,” Walden said that was understandable to the Fox team. NBC has business relationships with former “Idol” judges Simon Cowell and Jennifer Lopez. “That made sense to us –notwithstanding the fact that we thought it was way too early to bring the show back. All of our research and fan forums supported that notion,” she said. “We did not see the fan excitement.”

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