TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Bill Radke: Fox TV’s American Idol has wrapped up its first week of the new season, and the ratings suggest the show is slightly relaxing its grip on younger audiences. Ratings are down 14 percent among viewers 18 to 49, and down 16 percent among the 12 to 34 crowd.
Michael Speier is executive editor of Variety. Michael, why is Idol waning a little with the kids?
Michael Speier: Probably the mojo’s probably gone. It was such at a high point, unlike any show we’ve seen in the past few years, that it really had nowhere to go but down. And that said, it’s going down a little bit here and there, and that’s why they brought in some changes. But overall, it’s still a network problem that most people would love to have.
Radke: Well speaking of changes, there’s this new rule that the judges can save a contestant that the audience has eliminated?
Speier: Right, all these kind of weird tweaks that . . actually American Idol has been criticized over the years for not making changes and being kind of stolid in their decision to keep three judges and the same kind of voting and all of that. So this time they brought in another judge, they have new voting techniques. It’s not really helping that much. I think in the end, it really is all about the contestants. If you have someone like Kelly Clarkson, someone who kind of breaks out, you’re going to have something big. If you’re going to have someone like a Taylor Hicks, who, you know, in the moment people like, but after that doesn’t have much of a career, then you’re going to have a show that probably dips a little bit.
Radke: I don’t think you heard me, Michael: saving contestants that the audience has eliminated! Where is the outrage? Some contestants need to fail. They’re nationalizing American Idol.
Speier: Yes, they are.
Radke: This is network socialism, my friend.
Speier: Hahaha. But in the end, they probably have a better take on what sells than we do. And if there’s a contestant that the fans are voting off, but they want to keep him, they’re going to find a way to bring him back.
Radke: So if Idol is fading a little bit, who’s taking advantage of the opening?
Speier: Oh the reality shows, really. Something like Dancing With The Stars, something like The Biggest Loser. Those are shows that were popular on their own first. Biggest Loser just keeps growing and growing, Dancing With The Stars just premiered to huge numbers. Those are almost kind of like Idol numbers, the way Idol . . . not quite, but almost. And so those are the kinds of shows that are hitting their peak, just like American Idol hit their peak.
Radke: We’re in pilot season now, reality is ruling. How’s that affecting pilot season?
Speier: Well as always, when there’s fewer hours for scripted programming, there’s going to be fewer programs ordered. And that’s exactly what is happening. Pilot season, the ordering of pilots is going on right now, but you see networks ordering fewer, because all of these reality shows — even Jay Leno, who is not a reality show but a talk show — all of these shows mean fewer slots in the schedule for regular scripted programming. When that happens, they order fewer pilots, less people get hired, and they have to find other ways to get jobs.
Radke: Bad news for writers, good news for anonymous, about-to-be-famous people.
Radke: Variety’s Michael Speier. Thanks.