The heads of FOX, Dana Walden and Gary Newman, talked with reporters Monday morning about the network’s schedule and strategy for 2017-18.
The show that took up the largest share of the conversation, however, is one that’s not even on FOX: “American Idol,” which is relaunching at ABC next season after 15 years on FOX. Walden offered a fairly deep look into the network’s side of discussions with producer FremantleMedia and why it passed on the chance to reboot the show now.
“It’s obviously a tough one for us. We loved ‘American Idol,’ and it’s so connected to the FOX brand,” Walden says. “There was a tremendous amount of success for everyone on this show for 15 years. So yes, it feels bad that it’s coming back on another network.”
Walden says FOX and Fremantle had discussions about “Idol’s” return to air within a couple months of the show’s “farewell season” last year. She says Fremantle was interested in getting the show back on in short order, while the network wanted to stick to its final-season message.
“It felt to us, sitting in those initial meetings with Fremantle, that it would be extremely fraudulent to bring the show back quickly, that our fans would not appreciate being told one thing and then have the show brought back right away,” Walden says. She also says the network cited “Idol’s” steep ratings declines in later seasons and the fact FOX was losing “enormous amounts of money” on it in favor of a longer break.
“After those initial conversations, we heard pretty quickly that they were in conversations with NBC, which actually kind of made sense to us, because that gave them access to Simon Cowell,” Walden says. “I think the show missed him toward the end of its life on FOX. And they have a deal with Jennifer Lopez as well. So it kind of made sense to us, but it really made us focus on the fact that notwithstanding, we thought it was too early to bring the show back.
“All of our research and all of our fan forums supported that notion. We did not see the fan excitement and enthusiasm for that show to come back that Fremantle did. We just a different set of facts.”
Walden says FOX did make an offer to keep “American Idol” but wanted to wait to bring the series back for another few years. She offered up 2020 as a possible return date, which she terms “an appropriate amount of time off the air,” rather than the roughly two calendar years and season and a half of TV time before ABC’s version debuts.
“We tried to engaged Fremantle in conversations about bringing it back in ’20, which is when we thought would be an appropriate amount of time off the air and would give the creators and producers opportunity to make some changes to present the next generation of ‘Idol,'” she says.
“We saw ’20 as being a respectful amount of time to wait in between rebooting ‘Idol’ for fans who heard our message clearly that we presented a farewell season,” Walden says. “… Our conversations were more about what’s a respectful amount of time and less about specifically what would the show look like.”