Singing competition series have become “much more about celebrity panelists and less about” turning aspiring singers into stars, Fox Television Group co-chairman/CEO Dana Walden told TV critics at TCA. He was making official Fox’s order of The Four, its response to ABC’s American Idol reboot.
Walden said she was “deeply committed” to the genre. “There is nothing like a big, unscripted hit” that “happens to be a genre that broadcast television owns.”
One TV critic asked if the pickup of the Israeli reality format is Fox’s effort to sabotage ABC’s reboot of the long-running American Idol format that previously aired on Fox.
“Really? What are you talking about?” Walden joked.
Rob Wade, president of alternative entertainment at Fox Broadcasting Company, insisted The Four is nothing like American Idol, calling it as the most “pure, clean format” for a singing competition he’s ever seen and describing it as “Game of Thrones with better singing and less nudity.”
This format, Wade explained, allows booted singers to return to the competition “like [American] Ninja Warrior, where you see the same contestants come back.”
Asked who made the mistake in Idol — Fox for letting it go or ABC for picking it up and coughing up $25M for one panelist, Katy Perry — Walden responded “ABC.”
“I’m just kidding; I don’t want to be quoted cavalierly saying ABC,” Walden said – too late.
She repeated what she had said during Upfront Week: Idol had become awash in red ink with ratings way down and judge panel very expensive. Freemantle did not want to mess with judge panel or format, so everyone agreed to rest the format, and the so-long season attracted more viewers, at considerable expense to the network, Walden said. Fox was taken by surprise when producers wanted to bring it back so quickly which the network felt was “fraudulent to viewers” after calling the so-long season the so-long season. “We were not as aggressive to get that show and another network was,” she said, adding she is “happy they got Ryan Seacrest” back because “he is the face of the show.”
Now the producers have to deal with all the problems they did not want to face in talks with Fox, Walden noted: new panel, how much of the DNA can they retain, moving auditions to Disneyland, etc. On the other hand, it’s an asset that has “a lot of good will,” she acknowledged.
The Four will not launch until 2018, Walden said, and she does not anticipate putting it on against Idol, or NBC’s The Voice” saying they’re not developing it just to create noise in those same spaces.
The Four franchise, licensed by Armoza Formats eliminates the pesky so-called “lousy auditions” stage of Idol, unveiling four finalists in the opening episode, as show name suggests, picked by the show’s three judges. Each week, new competitors are introduced who will attempt to dethrone one of the finalists. Show tagline: “We start with the best and only get better.”
ABC, in unveiling its primetime plans for next season back in May, said it would bring format changes to American Idol, which Fox execs had suggested, after losing out in talks with Idol producers FremantleMedia and Core Media Group, was coming back too soon after their network pulled the plug, owing to lagging ratings and soaring costs. Those changes will reflect “clear ABC hallmark and brand,” entertainment division chief Channing Dungey told reporters during Upfront Week.’
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