In a cover story for The Hollywood Reporter, Ryan Seacrest reveals the bumpy road leading to his probable return to host the ABC reboot of American Idol.
Ironically, while he encouraged pop star Katy Perry to sign on as a judge, it was her unprecedented $25 million dollar pay day that almost scuttled his return.
The plan was to have Seacrest’s deal closed in time to announce it onstage at ABC’s upfront presentation in mid-May. Instead, the upfronts platform was used to announce a deal for Perry, whose traffic-stopping $25 million fee, a new talent show record, would soon leak to the press. Multiple insiders say that Fremantle, now with significantly less flexibility in its Idol budget, came back to Seacrest with an offer roughly half the size of its first. The supposed justification — that the new arrangement would require less of its famously busy host — didn’t make it any less insulting. Shock quickly turned to anger: Was this what 15 years of service got him? So, on June 5, after more than a week of waiting on the network to clean up the mess, his representatives asked that Seacrest’s name be withdrawn from the process. The face of one of the most transformational series of all time would say “This … is American Idol” no more.
After Seacrest withdrew his offer, ABC executives stepped in to save the day.
ABC’s top executives, allegedly blindsided by Fremantle’s lowball offer, were sent scrambling, according to sources close to the negotiation. Within hours, Sherwood was on the phone with Seacrest, pleading for one more day to make it right. Some in the star’s inner circle counseled him to let the show go. He didn’t need Idol, they told him; he’d already succeeded and moved on — both figuratively and literally — with Live, which had him uproot his life to New York after two decades in Los Angeles. Seacrest had his own reservations, too, wondering whether it was the right time or the right team to reimagine the show under what inevitably would be a media microscope, and all this just as he was settling into what was supposed to be his post-Idol chapter.
But in the end–Seacrest just couldn’t let Idol go. He can’t imagine anyone else hosting the show that started everything–from college dropout to major media mogul.
“I’ve always loved the show,” he says in his first extensive interview since the reboot became official. “And if I could do it forever, I would do it forever.” Those closest to him say that despite the personal and professional shifts, he believes his identity is still somewhat wrapped up in the show, and the idea of being replaced would destroy him.
The following day, June 6, Sherwood made good on his promise, and Seacrest got his revised offer, north of $10 million, say sources, and with a likely coveted executive producer title. At press time, he was nearing a deal to return. It would leave only one question unresolved for Seacrest, the one that had been eating at him for more than a year now: “Who am I if not the American Idol guy?”
WHEW. Close call. ABC executives at least realize they need Seacrest to succeed. I’m not surprised that he negotiated an executive producer credit, but let’s just hope he leaves the Kardashians out of it. Ha. In any case, it looks like this Idol reboot won’t be a low budget enterprise for ABC as originally planned, which is added pressure for higher ratings. High costs were the reason why FOX cancelled it, despite relatively decent numbers at the end of the show’s run.
Additionally, Katy Perry has been receiving bad reviews on her new album Witness and negative press over her protracted feud with Taylor Swift. Her new singles AREN’T climbing the Hot 100 these days, which questions even further the wisdom of blowing 60% of the talent budget on her salary.
Creator Simon Fuller is watching ABC’s rollout, but is wary. He’s says Seacrest should have been signed first.
Adding to the general sense of uncertainty is that many of the key players from Idol’s original run, including creator Fuller, judge Simon Cowell and producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, are not currently involved in the reboot. Fuller, who will maintain his financial stake, says he’s been disheartened by a “series of missteps” in the development process, arguing that signing Seacrest should have been the very first move. But none of it will matter, he adds, if the new team can establish a strong vision. And ABC does have one clear advantage: the sheer force by which the entire Walt Disney Co. — channels, theme parks, resorts and digital entities — can and will get behind the revival.
The network’s plan is to launch out of the Oscars in March, with auditions set to begin in mid-August. In addition to a 19-city tour, the refreshed Idol also will scout on social media platforms from Instagram to video sharing site Musical.ly. And though there’s been little movement on the other judges accompanying Perry (names like Luke Bryan have been floated), adding Seacrest as host would provide another obvious piece of corporate synergy, one of many reasons Sherwood is itching to get a deal done.
Despite bringing the show back too early, overpaying celebrity judges we don’t need in the first place, and screwing up negotiations with the one ingredient (Seacrest) this shaky enterprise desperately needs to succeed, I remain hopeful ABC can pull off the reboot. Just call me Pollyanna.