Damn. This inside account of what is going on behind the scenes of ABC’s American Idol reboot is really depressing. The info is from Richard Rushfield, who wrote a book about Idol and covered the show extensively for several publications, including the Los Angeles Times.
Talent costs are already eating up the budget. And after Katy Perry bragged that she’s being paid more than any “pretty much any guy on the show” Seacrest raised a well groomed eyebrow. The original plan was to get him on board for less than the $15 million he was paid when the show aired on FOX. But now he’s rethinking the whole deal. From Rushfield’s The Ankler newsletter.
The problem was what was happening at the same time on the judge’s track. Initially, the plan was to build the judges table around the original Idol, Kelly Clarkson, who was offered a salary in the mid-single-digit millions. Given that the entire point of the Idol reset had been to come back with a more cost effective package than the pricey range the show had drifted up into in the Fox era, securing some first rate but affordable judicial help was paramount.
However, before she signed, NBC came at Clarkson with an offer said to be around $12 million, which Idol alum or no, she duly accepted and exited stage right. Offers were put out to the second, third and fourth choices – stars but relatively affordable ones said to be at the Bruno Mars level of fame. None worked out.
Core, which bought much of Fuller’s share, post-Chapter 11 is now a shell of a company, comprised mainly of lawyers and accountants looking to squeeze cash out of its assets. Mike Darnell and the hands at Fox who tended to the show for a decade are, of course, no longer part of the team.
Which leaves international TV/brandling giant Fremantle, and its CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz as the sole hand at the wheel, where it once served as a partner in the team. The company has been eager of late to portray itself as the vision guiding the empire. However, with ABC getting panicky and the need to secure a name growing, the company acted quickly and put out an offer to Katy Perry at a traffic-stopping $25 million. This as they continued to negotiate with Seacrest around a figure in the mid-single digit millions.
However, when the size of Perry’s deal leaked last week, as it was certain to, with Perry gleefully confirming “I got paid, pretty much, more than any guy that’s been on that show,” Seacrest was suddenly asking himself why he come back for a sixteenth (16th) season at a salary a fifth-ish of the newcomer judge. Given that signing on to the show again would require weekly cross-country overnight trips to cover both his franchises, Idol’s host has grown notably cooler on the prospect, that was once the whole key to this reboot.
If ABC can’t sign Seacrest, then what’s the point? I have so many mixed feelings about this reboot. ABC has much to offer the singing show that FOX doesn’t, including a slew of Disney properties where the show could be cross-promoted. But bringing back American Idol a mere two years after it’s “farewell season”? It’s a risky proposition. And if it turns into an expensive proposition, the ratings will have to be high enough to make the investment worth it. Which was exactly the problem when FOX decided to cancel the show after the 15th season in 2016, despite decent ratings.
Newsflash: This week’s The Voice finale garnered less than a 2.0 rating in the 18-49 demo. The singing show format is getting tired. And throwing a ton of expensive celebrities at it will not solve its problems. ABC should have taken a big deep breath and continued its search for the perfect, financially doable panel. ABC should be watching old episodes of American Idol as a reminder of what made the show beloved in the first place. The talent. Once the core is established, then work to bring the show up to date as far as social media integration, etcetera.
My opinion is that ABC will be forced to cough up the dough for Seacrest, or the show is in trouble. (And if it’s true that Kelly bolted to The Voice over money, it would have been worth negotiating a higher salary with her. Legacy is more important than celebrity).
Ideally, Core/Freemantle should have waited 3-5 years to bring the show back. But they are driven by their bottom line, which is suffering without the once mighty show. I’m not feeling very confident about this reboot. What about you?