Why Do People React So Negatively To American Idol?

Categories: Broadcast TV

Written By

June 7th, 2009

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American Idol has been the top viewed show on US television for six years, but the NY Times points out, among other things, that the Emmy award for best reality-competition all of those 6 years has gone to The Amazing Race. That NYT article talks about some of the reasons why the industry (except Fox, of course) isn't particularly fond of the show or unscripted/reality shows in general:

Many people in the television business feel little love for reality shows generally, which take work away from actors and writers and sometimes use nonunion production crews. [...]

Chris Coelen, the chief executive of RDF Media USA, which produces reality series including “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” for Fox and “Wife Swap” for ABC, said he believed that there remained some prejudice against reality series that voters might be taking out on “Idol.” “I think ‘American Idol’ is a great show,” Mr. Coelen said. “But it’s been portrayed as ‘the coming annihilation of the scripted television business.’ And people who work in the reality genre haven’t been fully accepted at the grown-ups’ table.”

That makes complete sense to me. Creative and business people involved in scripted television feel their livelihoods threatened, and they react negatively. The business people at other networks get tired of losing the public competition (and more importantly, the revenue one) with Idol year after year.

What has surprised me in the two years that we've been running the site is the volume of anti-Idol comments we've gotten in just our general daily or weekly ratings posts from (presumably) regular viewers, many sounding as threatened as you'd assume those TV industry people would be. Comments from people who have no financial stake in the success or failure of American Idol (or any other TV show). And we almost never do posts specifically about American Idol, these comments are in regular ratings posts.

It's one thing not to like a show (full disclosure: I've never watched an entire American Idol episode), but another to feel threatened by it, or what it represents. Dateline NBC for example, sucks up a lot of NBC's schedule time too, presumably at the expense of scripted shows, but nobody leaves general negative comments about it (or any, for that matter).

Is it that Idol represents the threat to scripted television and that people just react negatively in general to that perceived threat? Is it a general dislike of anything successful? the Fox broadcasting network? generic whack-a-mole commenting?

Update: I focused on American Idol partially because that was the subject of the NYT piece and partly because it's the most watched US TV show, but the general negative comments about Dancing with the Stars, and simply reality/unscripted TV shows in general on our site are certainly of comparable volume.

 
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