You know the old adage, “If you love something, let it go?”
Yeah, TV networks haven’t heard that one, which is why ABC just revived American Idol little more than a year after Ryan Seacrest ominously declared, “Goodnight America … for now.”
It’s safe to say that no one was missing American Idol yet — we didn’t have time to; 13 months is barely more than the traditional eight we used to get between seasons when the show was airing on a regular cycle on Fox for 15 years.
Exhibit A — Twitter’s reaction to the news:
You asked for it so American Idol is back!
What’s that? Oh, you didn’t ask for it?
Welp. It’s still back cuz there’s no more ideas anymore.
— Grace Curley (@G_CURLEY) May 9, 2017
When was the last time American Idol actually produced anyone special? And ABC wants to bring it back. Are they that desperate?
— Christina (@AIPChristina) May 9, 2017
Some even considered the news part of a grand Seacrest conspiracy…
And yet, in our interminable reboot age, all intellectual properties that aren’t demonstrably bigoted or tangled up in rights issues are ripe for a revival — from big screen misfires like Clash of the Titans and Footloose to shows like Netflix’s Arrested Development (a sad shadow of its former glory) and Uncle Buck (seriously, nobody was asking for that).
But for every reboot that’s cancelled after one season, there are success stories like Lethal Weapon and Taken that further convince the studios that audiences will wholeheartedly embrace a generic update of a franchise they once mindlessly enjoyed — and seemingly no amount of flops will stop them.
Fox recently renewed The X-Files for an eleventh season thanks to the ratings dominance of the 2016 revival, despite the fact that critics accused the long-awaited return of having “the worst dialogue since The Phantom Menace,” and described an episode as “one of the most bafflingly awful and tin-eared hours of television of this year or any other,” among other sins.
Because less isn’t more in the world of Peak TV, and there’s no such thing as flogging a dead horse — not when that horse was still pulling in more than 11 million viewers after more than a decade on air.
But just because everything can be revived, doesn’t mean it should be.
Ryan Seacrest might be able to carve out some time between his 15 other jobs to resume his hosting duties, especially now he’s coincidentally in the ABC fold thanks to Live with Kelly and Ryan, but everyone’s favorite grumpy uncle, Simon Cowell, is unable to return due to his exclusive contract with NBC for America’s Got Talent. (Interestingly, NBC was also said to be in the running to revive Idol, but reportedly backed out due to concerns it might cannibalize The Voice‘s audience.)
The show proved resilient despite an ever-shifting roster of judges that ranged from the short-lived (Ellen DeGeneres, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, who were one and done), to the fan favorites (Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez), but Lopez now has commitments to NBC’s Shades of Blue and World of Dance, a competition series she’s executive producing and starring in. And half of the joy of Abdul and Jackson’s involvement was seeing them banter with Cowell.
While it’s easy to throw three random celebrities together and hope for fireworks, the lackluster performance of Cowell’s X Factor — and the Idol implosion of Carey and Minaj — proves that there’s a certain magical alchemy that can’t be manufactured when it comes to these competitions, no matter how strong the star power.
Besides which, aren’t we bored of singing competitions yet? (I sure am.) The Voice is still running two cycles a year, in February and September, and NBC is also relentlessly airing America’s Got Talent — and yet none of these competitions (including Idol) have produced a winner with recording success and career longevity since the days of Carrie Underwood back in Season 4. At some point, the audience has to develop competition fatigue, don’t they?
This could all be motivated by the fact that ABC has been unsuccessfully trying to launch its own singing competition for almost as long as Idol was on the air: The One (2006) lasted only four episodes and remains one of the lowest-rated series premieres on broadcast TV ever; Duets (2012) managed to complete its brief nine-episode season before being cancelled; and Rising Star (2014) closed its first and only season with a paltry 3.57 million viewers.
Compared to that, Idol‘s 11-plus million in Season 15 must look mighty enticing. But there’s no guarantee that Fox’s Idol audience will migrate to ABC — Supergirl shed millions of viewers in the move from CBS to The CW, and that was after only a few months off the air.
ABC has already greenlit a boyband competition series — creatively titled “Boy Band” — for summer 2017, which proves they’re not completely out of ideas, but sadly, name recognition is still Hollywood’s preferred currency.
It’s cruel to say, but it might take a flop of epic (perhaps even Idol-sized) proportions to cure the networks’ obsession with reboots. We’re not saying we’re rooting for Idol 2.0 to fail, but would anyone really miss it once it’s gone … again?