“It feels bad knowing its coming back on another network,” said Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden. Conversations began immediately after the show’s final episode in 2016 about “Idol’s” future, and Walden said producer FremantleMedia North America was “determined on getting this show back on the air.”
But Fox had just spent $25 million in marketing what it called the “Farewell Season” of “Idol,” with a “clear and persistent message it was the final season. It felt to us it would be extremely fraudulent to bring the show back quickly. Fans would not appreciate being told one thing [and then us doing another]. We and Fremantle had very different points of view.”
Walden pointed out that “Idol” went off the air after its ratings “had dropped almost 70%. There was clearly a ratings trend. The network was losing an enormous amount of money.”
Yet Fox execs said they were frustrated that FremantleMedia didn’t want to make significant changes to “Idol.” “They didn’t want to test another panel. They ultimately said to us they’d rather rest the show than make any changes. We respected that and decided to call it the ‘farewell season.'”
But then, Fox “heard quickly” that FremantleMedia was talking to NBC about reviving “Idol” sooner rather than later. Fox execs said they figured that made sense, because Simon Cowell is now on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” and it’s generally believed that “Idol” lost its mojo after Cowell left.
“We did not see the fan enthusiasm and excitement [for ‘Idol’] that Fremantle did,” Walden said. “We had a different set of facts.”
Nonetheless, Fox execs decided to make an offer in order to hold on to a franchise that had been identified with Fox for so many years. “We did make an offer,” Walden said. That was the idea of bringing the show back in 2020, which the network felt was an appropriate amount of time, and would give the show’s creators (including Simon Fuller) time to reinvent the show. “Fremantle was definitely not interested.”
On Sunday, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt confirmed that the Peacock network had held conversations about “Idol,” and “recognized the franchise is a great name and title.” Ultimately, though, he said the network didn’t need the show. Added NBC alternative president Paul Telegdy, “The audience hadn’t told us there’s a compelling reason to bring it back, either.”
“Idol” eventually wound up at ABC, which promised to mount the show’s return next year. Walden said FremantleMedia parent RTL’s earnings had something to do with that, “They lost revenue from not having the show on in the U.S.,” she said.
In January, Fox TV Group chairman Gary Newman said he thought “Idol” was part of the Fox DNA – but that “‘Idol’ hasn’t been off the air for that long. It was on the air in the 2015-2016 TV season. We’re only in the 2016-2017 season right now. We had a great final season. I thought we all agreed that the campaign for the final season was smart, it resonated, people didn’t want to miss it. I think that bringing shows back is difficult, particularly when you made a big deal about announcing it as a final season.”