The FOX executive team took questions from reporters on a conference call this morning ahead of this afternoon’s upfront presentation in New York City. MANY of the questions focused on the big announcement that American Idol would return next January for a 15th and FINAL season. FOX’s breakout hit, Empire, which is set to return in the Fall, for an 18 episode run, was also a big topic of conversation.
American Idol will return in 2016 in its usual timeslot with the same judges–Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.–and the same format as the current season. It will air twice a week, Wednesday and Thursday. When the live shows begin, the combination performance results will air on THURSDAYS (rather than Wednesday as it is currently). To end the series in a celebratory and nostalgic manner, production will be inviting former judges and alumni to return for one last goodbye.
Special guest stars for Empire weren’t name checked, but promise to be “amazing.” Many stars have “lined up to be on this show.” It was confirmed that singer/producer/songwriter Ne-Yo is set to compose music for the series, along with Timbaland. FOX decided not to change the series’ air date or time period–Wednesdays at 9/8c pm. “We want to reward our fans. We’d be crazy to move it.” There isn’t an issue with content as far as the time slot. FOX realizes that appointment television is so rare these days, they didn’t want to disturb a formula that has worked spectacularly so far.
Empire, as well as other scrpted fare, will air in two uninterrupted installments. Part one in the fall will lead up to a “big cliffhanger.” Part 2 will come in the spring. “This will give more consistency for our viewers and create built in events for our series twice a year.”
The following are complete questions and answers from the Q & A regarding Idol. uI wonder how thrilled the team was to have 2/3 of the conference taken up with Idol questions!
On making the decision to bring American Idol to an end: “It was not an easy decision. American Idol has been such a vital part of FOX for its run. We spent a lot of time talking with the producers about the future of American Idol and collectively we all arrived at the conclusion that it was time to bring the show to an end. We really wanted to do it in a way that felt special and celebratory and treated the show the way that it deserved to be treated. [The final season is] going to be a true season long celebration. We’re already talking about surprises we can have for the fans to make it feel special, and to send it off in a way that is as significant as its run it’s had on our network.”
Will judges like Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul have some role in the final season? “We would welcome any of them back. Obviously, the executive producers are focused right now on ending this season in a big way. We’re having conversations with them about anything that you can imagine in terms of what would be celebratory, what would feel nostalgic, and all of the things that you might do to send the show off in a way that feels memorable.”
What happens to the franchise now that the original run of Idol is over? “We haven’t had any kind of detailed conversations with them about life post next season. We have a very collaborative relationship with [Idol production company] Freemantle, Core is part of the greater 21st century FOX family. I think the future for the franchise–the story remains to be written. Idol still is a popular franchise in other parts of the world. It just felt collectively with them, it was the right time to bring this run to a close. I think the future–there is endless possibilities.”
Are there any surprises ahead for the finale and beyond? “We don’t really have anything to share today about what’s going to happen next season. We’re just staying focused on ending this season. If you can imagine the conversations that we’ve been having with them about what next season will look like, and finally making a pretty emotional decision to bring the show to an end. It really consumed the conversations that we’ve had thus far. I’m sure next week after the show has wrapped we’ll start having more concrete conversations about exactly what next season will look like. I will tell you, having spent time very recently with former Idol judges, there’s a lot of enthusiasm about coming back and paying tribute to a show that launched many many successful careers. I think there’s going to be a lot of enthusiasm around former contestants and judges being a part of the show.”
Is FOX out of the singing competition business? “I don’t think we’d ever make that kind of proclamation. Obviously Idol has been such a strong performer for us and continues to be a strong performer. We have a new head of unscripted programming…she and her team are developing all sorts of unscripted programs including performance shows. We’ll see what comes in that feels most creatively vibrant and we certainly could end up in that space. It feels that space–you need to re-invent performance shows somewhat. That certainly would be a challenge we would welcome.”
How seriously did the network consider bringing Idol back in the summer, or blowing up the format completely, before deciding to end it altogether? “We really didn’t give a lot of thought to that. Idol is a #1 show on broadcast, I believe for eight seasons. It was a collective decision that we made with the producers that the right way to send this show out is right in the time period that it’s had for these last years and to make it a celebratory event. It still has a great deal of popularity in viewing and we’re going to deliver a really special season next year.”
There was a question about bringing back Brian Dunkleman. The room erupted in laughter. “Where is Brian Dunkleman? If you get me his number I will call and invite him.”