American Idled: An Unlikely TV Smash Sings Its Final Chorus

Nick Fradiani arrives at the "American Idol XIV" finalists party at The District by Hannah An on Wednesday, Mar. 11th in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

(WTNH) I’ve never watched “American Idol” for more than a few minutes, but I’ve disliked it for a long time.  For professional reasons, you might say.  When it launched in June of 2002, I worked for a TV station in New York City, where I co-anchored a 10PM newscast that went up against the local Fox station.  During my first years, our ratings were neck-and-neck, and beating out Fox 5 was our corporate Holy Grail.  Alas, “American Idol” snatched the cup away just as our fingertips were touching it.

When it comes to ratings, the program that’s on before a newscast can be at least as big a factor as the quality of the news program itself.  Once “American Idol” quickly established itself on the Fox network as an off-the-charts ratings phenomenon, it was all over for my newscast.  When 20-times as many people are watching the show before your competition’s newscast, compared to what your network is airing, the local news game is over before it even starts.  My station was never competitive again.

Now comes word that “Idol” will be cancelled next Spring, at the completion of its 15th season, because of a long stretch of declining ratings.  As much as I wished this had happened, say, 14-years ago, I have to salute what the show accomplished: namely, taking the oldest concept in entertainment, the talent show, and somehow turning it into a modern mega hit that achieved viewership levels which were no longer believed possible in the multichannel, internet-saturated media world.

There’s lots of analyses out there today explaining the rise and fall of “American Idol”: it’s a discussion I’ll sit out, since, you know, I never watched it.  I know that minting some genuine pop superstars — Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Phillip Phillips, Daughtry — gave it credibility that a show like “America’s Next Top Model” never had (quick, name a top model that came from that show…Ha! Just as I thought).  I feel bad for Guilford, Connecticut’s hometown hero, Nick Fradiani.  Just as he enters the final three in the current competition, it has to feel a little like the rug being pulled out from underneath him when Fox announces its eventual cancellation just as it hits this season’s home stretch.  I wonder why they didn’t wait until the season was over.

But that’s about as much thought as I’m going to give the matter.  I will make the prediction that no prime time network show will ever come close to the ratings that “Idol” achieved during its best years.  Then again, I predicted 13-years ago that a silly talent show would never be a success.  Go figure.


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