Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Death of American Idol?

Maybe, maybe not. Too soon to tell. But I do think the show faces an existential crisis.

I dropped out of watching the show after American Idol Gives Back because it occurred to me at the time that the mega-special was an enormous, possibly fatal, betrayal of the audience, on two grounds. The first is that the American Idol franchise is half built on the art of the tease as they draw out their results shows once a week.

If you're good at it, you can tease the audience for forever. But the only Cardinal Rule of the Tease is that you absolutely, positively must deliver the payoff. During Idol Gives Back, the producers teased the audience for two excruciating hours, pretending that they were going to send someone home. And then, at the final moment, went back on their word. That's very, very bad. It breaks your bargain with the audience and makes them much less forgiving. I don't know if you can ever re-establish that trust once it's gone.

The other betrayal of "Idol Gives Back" was the show's honesty. A big part of the appeal of American Idol is that Simon is unscripted and, if not heartless, then at least clinical enough not to pull his punches because of sentimentality or politeness. That gives the show its tiny frisson of danger. The Idol Gives Back show gave us a neutered, Hallmark-ready Simon. Which is death.

I don't think audiences want to believe that Simon can be as pre-packaged and fake as everyone else on television because it introduces the possibility that even his critical schtick is an act. And the minute audiences believe that Simon is playing a part is the minute Idol starts to wane.

It's completely possible that I'm overstating things, but the numbers on Idol post-Gives Back must be giving Fox a fright--it's down and now tied with the much-diminished House.

Maybe Idol will make a comeback and this is nothing more than a blip, but I suspect that the Gives Back show may have been the night when Idol began its gradual eclipse from the culture.


Anonymous said...

There's something to your argument that the Idol Gives Back show undermined public trust in the show, but may I suggest two other reasons for a ratings drop: (a) the relative lack of depth in this year's top 24. Melinda and Jordin are standouts but the rest . . meh . . in both talent and personality. Compare to last year when Chris Daughtry, Mandisa, Bucky Covington, Kelly Pickler, et al. didn't even make the top three. Instead this year we had the spectacle of Sanjaya. My wife refused to watch the show this year as long as he held on; (b) more important to the ratings, however, is the impact of delayed viewing, and American Idol is particularly susceptible to this phenomenon BECAUSE it has so much filler and fluff (like the entire Idol Gives Back show). I never watch all of the show, preferring to just DVR it then fast-forward to the songs and judges comments. I suspect there are a lot of others out there doing the same thing, and Nielsen hasn't found a way to gauge our numbers yet.

Anonymous said...

The season died when Antonella Barba was voted off the show.

Sanjaya was only a sad little branch from which it clung to keep Antonella's train wreck loving "fans" around as long as possible.

Now they're gone, beat box dude ruined a perfectly good Bee Gees song and the show sucks.