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American Idol: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Destroy Themby Sting7 -- 05/02/2005
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Fox liked to think of itself as the network that tried harder. The other major networks, then three (ABC, CBS, and NBC), had little regard for Fox at all. In the ratings wars, Fox wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen. Kept afloat by shows with moderate ratings like Married With Children, The Simpsons, and Beverly Hills 90210, Fox knew it could compete with the big boys if it could just find the right vehicle.
It started by dabbling in the reality genre, which eventually brought them to American Idol, an ambitious but inexpensive gamble of summer programming. Summer programming – meaning the other networks were shelling out exhaustive reruns and emptying the shelves of failed pilots they had no real intention of picking up. American Idol was running virtually uncontested. So, literally, while the big three were sleeping, a giant was born.
And the other networks will never forgive Fox for that. (ABC has a particularly bitter aftertaste – American Idol’s creators pitched the show to ABC before Fox. ABC told them it would never work, and passed on the project. Yet, ABC gave the green light to Are You Hot?)
Which is the other side of the PrimeTime Live segment that ABC is breathlessly touting. With Fox shockingly challenging for the number one spot, American Idol is an enormous thorn to the sides of the other networks. When Fox brazenly placed American Idol smack dab in the fall line-up for season two, the other networks gamely placed their champions against Fox’s and quickly ran for cover. Since then, ratings flagship have rarely been placed against Idol. In fact, the other networks have essentially abdicated Idol nights. Once great The West Wing has been beaten badly by American Idol this season – damage it may not recover from.
So, you see, anything that could take some of the luster off of Idol would be golden for the other networks. And what better target than Paula Abdul? Ken Baker, senior West Coast editor for US Weekly told Dateline NBC, "People have opinions about Paula Abdul. They love her. They don't like her. They think she's loopy. And that makes her a really good TV personality. And it's worked for the show."
The allegations of Paula’s affair with Corey Clark are sure to give American Idol another ratings spike it doesn’t even need, but that could be a short-term boon, says Baker, "If what Corey Clark is saying is true, then Fox has a big mess on their hands. And Paula Abdul has an even bigger mess on her hands."
But, do not be fooled. This is Hollywood, and everything in Hollywood, they say, happens for a reason. Some question Paula’s revelation that she has been in constant pain for some six years, just about the same time Clark has made his allegations, "It's what I like to call the Hollywood preemptive strike," said Pat Lalama of Celebrity Justice to Dateline NBC.
Paula was said to be shocked when she saw that people on message boards were claiming she appeared to stoned, high, or otherwise chemically enhanced. How do you battle those kinds of allegations? "It's a come to the table, lay your heart out, let me tell you about my 25 years of pain and suffering," Lalama says.
ABC is feeling buoyed by newfound, and unexpected, success from this past season. Three of its new offerings: Desperate Housewives, Lost, and Boston Legal, are irrefutable ratings smashes. Feeling its new power, ABC felt uniquely capable of being the network to topple the giant, and are keeping their ammo very close to the vest. Adam Procriss, publicist for PrimeTime Live, fairly snarls at requests for more information on the subject matter of the report, "[the televised commercials] are as much as we're releasing about it. The report is still being put together, so we have no further comment on it at this time."
What Procriss does offer is that ABC is not remotely flinching at Abdul’s promise of a lawsuit if they air the segment. Perhaps because, as the Drudge Report is saying, they have an answering machine message that seems to back up Clark’s claims.
However, many say that ABC has skillfully positioned itself that it does not have to deliver on the promised earth-shaking news on Idol. All they would have to do is find a few contestants who didn’t think they got a fair shake, and they have sufficiently delivered on the promise. Even in the form of Corey Clark: "He's ambitious. He's disgruntled, perhaps. He has an axe to grind. There's a dollar sign in each eye," notes Pat Lalama. But, if ABC stays firmly in the middle and lets the former Idols tell their tales of woe, ABC is only reporting and not alleging. Nothing for Paula to sue them over then.
Some are speculating that the report will be a rehash of the scandals we already know about – Frenchie Davis, Donnie Williams, Corey Clark, et al with this season’s entrants, Scott Savol and Bo Bice.
Others note the timing of this exposé – just as May sweeps is beginning. With only weeks left in the season, ABC, Fox, and NBC are in a neck-and-neck race behind CBS for second place. They are separated by less than .5 percent of a ratings point.
In the highly touted 18- to 49-year-old demographic, the group most prized by advertisers, CBS and Fox are leading ABC by a mere .2 percent of a ratings point. CSI and American Idol dominate this demographic and are in a virtual dead-heat with each other for supremacy from week to week. Such small numbers could be potentially shifted by "Fallen Idol," depending on the wallop it delivers.
The question remains whether the PrimeTime Live report has any actual meat, or if it will merely rehash news we already knew. The bigger question is whether there is anything that could be said to stop American Idol from rolling. Anything at all.
Sting7 has been a respected published writer for many years, as a music editor, entertainment critic, columnist, and interviewer. He also has a curious love for pro-wrestling! You can email Stinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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