Viewers will “absolutely” see format changes on American Idol when it debuts on ABC early in 2018, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said Tuesday morning.
“You will see clear ABC hallmark and brand” in the format changes when the singing competition series debuts on its new network, she told reporters on a phone call to discuss ABC’s new primetime slate for 2017-18.
Dungey insisted it is not too soon to bring back the long-running show that is moving to ABC after 15 years on Fox, as Fox execs had suggested on Monday.
“From where we sit, it’s the perfect time to bring it back. What I love about it, it’s about heartfelt, uplifting stories of people who make their dreams come true and that’s our sweet spot,” Dungey insisted. “For me it feels like the perfect home and the perfect time.”
ABC is “just starting conversations” with American Idol producers about details of the deal, she said when asked if Idol would be a red-ink show for the network, given its ratings and cost of production in its final seasons on Fox. “The great thing” she insisted, is that viewers love live TV and “advertisers love shows people watch live.”
“Live events…are incredibly important to us because of how they drive live viewing,” Dungey added.
Acknowledging that not all of the economics have been ironed out which, she explained that is why the show is not on ABC’s fall schedule. Dungey also joked “television business is full of red ink now, isn’t it?”
Asked what had changed between ABC’s early decision to pass on an Idol reboot, and its change of heart, Dungey insisted “It was less of a pass initially” during those “early conversations floated.”
“We were looking at what our plans and needs were, and some of the ideas that were discussed in the initial proposal didn’t necessarily make sense for us,” she said of the earlier conversations. Later, when ABC sat down with producers, “we realized what a perfect fit it would be for us.”
Dungey declined to confirm reports about Ryan Seacrest returning as host, and Katy Perry joining as a judge.
She also called it “too early” to confirm that the show would air on Sunday in its returns to the air on its new network. “Quite honestly we’re still looking at a lot of different pieces for mid-season,” she said, adding there is “a lot up in the air.”
One day earlier, Fox chair Dana Walden had acknowledged they’d had talks with Idol producers about bringing it back to the network – in 2020. “We saw  as being a respectful amount of time for rebooting Idol for fans,” Walden said in her Upfront week phoner with reporters. American Idol ended what was heavily promoted as its 15th and final season on April 7 last year.
Last week, ABC announced it had struck a deal with producers FremantleMedia North America and CORE Media Group’s 19 Entertainment to relaunch Idol this upcoming season. “It’s obviously a tough one for us,” Walden acknowledged. “It feels bad knowing it’s coming back on another network.”
She noted talks with FremantleMedia began soon after Idol wrapped its much-hyped finale. Freemantle had agreed to shelve the title for a few years, but then decided to rush Idol back as soon as possible, for financial reasons, Walden suggested.
“They were determined to get this show back on the air as quickly as possible,” Walden said. But, “we spent about $25 million sending a clear message that it was the farewell season. It felt to us it would be extremely fraudulent to bring the show back quickly, that fans would not appreciate being told one thing and then having the show brought back right away.”
“We did not see the fans’ enthusiasm to bringing the show back that Fremantle did,” Walden had added, noting her network had lost a “significant amount of money” on the show in its last few seasons, as the ratings declined by nearly half and costs soared.
“We and Fremantle had very different points of view,” Walden said of their talks. “The last conversation we had with them was about how the ratings had dropped over 70 percent over four years. There was clearly a ratings trend. It was not going in the right direction.” The network has lost “an enormous amount” of money in the show’s final seasons on its air, she said; Fox reportedly lost $60M a season at the end.
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