Upfronts 2014: ‘American Idol’ gets little love at Fox presentation

Sam Woolf, left, Jena Irene and Alex Preston perform on "American Idol" on April 30, 2014.
(Michael Becker / Fox Broadcasting)

At Fox’s upfront presentation Monday in New York, entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly boasted about the network’s breakout freshman drama “Sleepy Hollow” and boasted of its lineup of “youth appeal comedies” like “New Girl,” “Mindy Project” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

But there was one returning hit that received almost no mention in the 75-minute presentation: “American Idol.” Ryan Seacrest made a perfunctory appearance in a clip to introduce a performance by rapper Pitbull, who will host a New Year’s Eve special for the network and received far more attention than any of the stars of “Idol.”

Once the crown jewel of Fox’s lineup and the highest-rated show in all of television, drawing as many as 30 million viewers a week, the aging singing competition has fallen on hard times in recent seasons. The average viewer of the show continues to age upward — a no-no for the young-skewing Fox — while its overall audience has declined precipitously, reaching a low of just 7 million viewers for an episode last week.

In its just-unveiled 2014-15 schedule, Fox is dramatically scaling back on the fading reality franchise, which was just renewed for a 14th season. Once taking up more than 50 hours of programming over the course of a season, “American Idol” will be reduced to about 37 hours next year. Gone completely is “The X Factor,” the Simon Cowell-produced competition series axed this year after three seasons.


In a conference call Monday, Reilly conceded that “ ‘Idol’ is not going to come back as the ratings champion it once was” and said the show is also likely to be consolidated into a single two-hour broadcast for most of its run.

Still, “American Idol’s” overall numbers are nothing to sniff at, which is why few people were surprised when it was renewed.

But Fox’s neglect of the fading but still popular series stands in stark contrast to NBC’s treatment of its derivative singing competition, “The Voice.” At its upfront Monday morning, the peacock network heavily promoted the show, which will be back in the fall for another cycle with two new judges, Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams, in the swiveling red chairs.

Of course, there’s a danger NBC is guilty of overkill when it comes to “The Voice,” which, as Seth Meyers joked at the presentation, is in “the fifth season that NBC has aired this year and it’s only May.” Fellow funnyman Jimmy Fallon also joined in the self-mockery, saying, “We’ve got ‘The Voice’ and ‘The Blacklist,’ and we’ve got reruns of ‘The Voice.’”