The Reboot of “American Idol” Proves That No One Is Safe

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And so, it has come to this. Just a year after it signed off with a grand finale that exemplified everything that was great and not-so-great about the show, American Idol is returning, in a different form, on a different network, and maybe with different judges. Either way, it’s coming back next year, whether we like it or not.

By the way, that above comment about what last year’s grand finale exemplified? I’m only saying that because it’s what I heard. I never watched American Idol, never understood the appeal, never got the concept, never cared, so you would think it wouldn’t annoy me quite so much that they’re bringing it back.

Ha, something that shouldn’t annoy me, but does anyway. Boy, if that’s not the story of my whole life, I don’t know what is.

Honestly, I genuinely couldn’t care less about American Idol coming back to television, that’s not my issue. If people like it, then it should exist, right? I mean, just because ratings declined steadily over the last few years of the show as it hemorrhaged viewers, and just because the mystique slowly but surely eroded from the enterprise, doesn’t mean it won’t be welcomed back with open arms. Especially because it’s now going to be on ABC instead of Fox! I mean, come on! That’s a huge difference!

No, it’s not the show that has me agitated, it’s the fact that, among all these reboots and reimaginings and remakes and reanimations, I sort of thought that there might be one area of pop culture that would be safe from this mishegas. Movies and scripted TV? Forget it. That ship has long sailed. But Reality Television? I actually thought that might be immune to such concepts.

For one thing, unlike scripted fare, once reality shows run their course, it’s sort of over for them. It’s not like you’re going to get another batch of Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? or The Mole, although, come to think of it, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see someone suggest a new season of I’m a Celebrity! Get Me Out of Here! That one actually feels like a bit of a no-brainer.

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But this American Idol thing sort of has me flummoxed, simply because I thought they had already rebooted the concept, only they called it The Voice. Granted, reality television isn’t exactly my forte — the only one I watch is Survivor, and I’ve been on that from the very beginning — but at some juncture, isn’t there a saturation point? Is there such a thing as too many singing competition shows?

Well, I guess not, huh? ABC seems to have answered that question for me, in spades.

Still, though, there is a serious question that needs to be asked here. If we’re going to bring something back from the dead, shouldn’t we be given a chance to actually, y’know, miss it first? I’m using the royal we, obviously, since I can’t be included in those that might have noticed it was gone and pined for its return, but that doesn’t make the query any less valid. One has to genuinely wonder what it is about this new series that will draw viewers in a way that the original one simply was no longer capable of doing. What is the magic formula that ABC now possesses that Fox lost? Which judges could possibly be hired who might bring an audience back? What undiscovered singers out there are worthy of getting 15 or 20 million people to tune in every week, in a way that they no longer cared to do just 12 months ago?

Obviously, ABC spent a lot of money on this because it saw an opportunity to make even more of it. This is not rocket surgery, here. My confusion comes from an inability to comprehend what they think they can do to turn around a flailing operation that others couldn’t. I mean, I suppose they could mix things up by, say, putting the contestants in precarious situations, like making them perform in front of a bunch of belligerent drunks, or having them open for an artist nothing like themselves, thus forcing them to sing to an audience that has no interest in what they’re offering. That might make things fresh and new, and present something that the previous iteration didn’t (or so I would imagine, since, again, I never watched it).

But, then again, that’s sort of show business in a nutshell, isn’t it? One person thinking they can get something to work that someone else couldn’t, because ego. And that’s sort of what the town is built on, whether we like it or not.

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Just look at what Sony has done with Spider-Man this century. Three movies in five years, two of which were fabulous and one of which was execrable. Then, five years later, a reboot placed in the hands of an inexperienced director and an actor far too old for the part, which led to a pair of disappointing movies that did not return nearly the remuneration on which the studio was counting. This summer, Ol’ Webhead returns, but this time, under the auspices of Marvel, a company that has turned the making of superhero movies into an art form over the last nine years, which gives us fanboys hope that, perhaps, they actually got it right for the first time in over a decade.

That, you see, is one of those rare times when the decision was made that the reins should be handed off to someone else, someone who knew what they were doing and were somewhat expert in the area. This one doesn’t feel like that. Not at all. I have no idea if Idol creator Simon Fuller has some kind of new information at his fingertips that he didn’t have over the last few seasons, ideas that might resuscitate the ratings, but I do know he almost certainly doesn’t have Simon Cowell or Jennifer Lopez, both of whom are now under contract at NBC, and former host Ryan Seacrest, of course, now has Live with Kelly & Ryan, which makes it unlikely they’d be able to bring him back, either (though I understand Brian Dunkleman might be available).

Interestingly, while I would assume you might be willing to take my word for it on something like this (because why wouldn’t you?), I can actually point to someone else who had a similar reaction to the news. Someone who might carry a wee bit more weight in this area than I. Nigel Lythgoe was the executive producer of the original version, on board for 13 of its 15 years. When the announcement came down earlier this week about the reboot, he was, shall we say, nonplussed.

“They got their wish, but it feels a little too soon to bring it back,” he told Variety. Also, while he still “loves the show,” he believes you resurrect a series “when there is public demand that it come back.”

Public demand? Oh, Nigel. So naive. Since when has that ever stopped anyone before?

Neil Turitz 2 is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades working in and writing about Hollywood. Feel free to send him a tweet at @neilturitz. He’ll more than likely respond.

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