What goes around comes around? Remember when Freemantle was shopping American Idol around in 2017? After the FOX network ended the iconic series after 15 seasons, producers Fremantle went straight to work finding the show another home. Although ratings had fallen from the dizzying heights of the show’s heyday, producers felt the numbers were still good enough to sustain Idol’s profitability.
After NBC and FOX took a look and passed, ABC picked up the show. The inaugural Disney season, which aired in 2018, performed solidly if not spectacularly. Despite American Idol’s expensive price tag, the network renewed the musical competition for another season.
But now there is a twist! With Disney about to acquire 21st Century FOX assets from Rupert Murdoch, it appears that the executives that cancelled Idol–get ready for it–will soon be installed as head of ABC television. According to Variety:
21st Century Fox president Peter Rice and Fox Television Group chairman Dana Walden are slated to relocate to Disney in senior posts overseeing TV operations. Current Disney/ABC TV Group president Ben Sherwood is expected to transition to a new role at Disney, although the specifics of that role are still unclear.
ABC has gained momentum with new programming in the past two seasons, but Sherwood’s track record in other areas has been mixed.
Sherwood most recently championed ABC’s investment in reviving “American Idol,” which paid off for the network with a credible performance this past season albeit at a high cost. ABC also fielded a hit last season with medical drama “The Good Doctor.” The network briefly laid claim to the most-watched series in TV last season with the “Roseanne” revival, but the ratings glow was short-lived after star Roseanne Barr sent a racist tweet that forced ABC to cancel the show in late May.
Meanwhile, FOX gave American Idol another look when Fremantle shopped it around. But the network passed. Hard.
Walden, in fact, told reporters that bringing American Idol back only two years after it’s much-publicized “Farewell Season” would have been “extremely fraudulent” to fans. The network wanted to wait until at least 2020 before FOX would even consider it. “We did make an offer,” Walden said during a conference call ahead of FOX’s 2017 Upfronts session. “Fremantle was definitely not interested.”
A Variety source close to the situation cautioned that Rice and Walden have yet to formally close deals with Disney. However, the talks have been ongoing for some time.
If Walden and Rice join Disney, with they support American Idol as enthusiastically as Sherwood did? ABC has done a great job marketing the show across all it’s platforms. The folks in charge NOW obviously want it to succeed, and are willing to cut the newly rebooted competition a little slack. But once the FOX folks take over? I have a feeling all bets will be off.