Photo Credit: FOX via Getty Images
Wednesday's news about American Idol -- that Fox allegedly plans to fire all four judges and the exec producer, Nigel Lythgoe -- isn't really all that shocking. Just this season, viewership has dipped 22 percent. Last week's Idol watchers were 11 million strong, but that's nothing compared to the 30 million who tuned in back in 2006. For the media, chronicling the show's long slide is like reporting on the weather in Seattle. Rain, rain, and more rain, for years now.
Is this drastic move the beginning of the end? After all, some are wondering, why not just cancel it? Can't Fox just put this tired, Coke-guzzling behemoth out of its misery?
Uh, no. In fact, that's impossible. Idol is Fox's cash cow, and has been for over a decade. And Fox still needs its milk! The search for the next Kelly Clarkson pays to keep the lights on at the network, while it invests in other promising (but fledgling) new shows. But hits are elusive, and The X Factor (Fox's other show with a shot at seismic appeal) is nowhere close to meeting the challenge. Its December finale attracted only 9.6 million viewers. (Thanks for nothing, Simon Cowell!)
Fox is stuck with a limping Idol, and that's why the network has to sack the current crowd of talent and start fresh. It's the best idea they've had all year.
It's not just that canning Nicki Minaj will make the world a better place. (Truth is, like a neon-colored weed, she'll just pop up somewhere else.) And it's nothing against the other three judges. Mariah Carey appears to be trying her best in a tense situation (perpetuated, says her husband Nick Cannon, by producers). Randy Jackson may have some irritating catch phrases, but honestly, he's harmless as Milquetoast. And who could dislike the ever-amiable and sexy Keith Urban?
But as The Voice has proven, people are still willing to tune in to a singing competition -- as long as you find a way to make it compelling. And while Idol has moderately freshened up its format with tweaks and new talent, it just hasn't hit the sweet spot that The Voice has discovered with swiveling chairs, knock-out rounds and a playfully cut-throat judge/mentor competition.
What should Idol do to find its own sweet spot of compelling format changes? Who knows? That's the million dollar question. But cutting its judges loose is a good start.