You don’t often get the opportunity to hear a network executive apologize for the performance of TV’s most-watched show or defending an outstanding drama Emmy winner, but FOX’s new dynamic duo of Peter Liguori and Kevin Reilly found themselves doing just that on Sunday (July 22) morning.
The Tuesday and Wednesday episodes of American Idol both averaged more than 30 million viewers this past season, vastly more than any other show on TV. Despite the dominance of the Idol juggernaut and its seemingly reliable ability to elevate FOX from fourth place to first every winter, there was a perception this season that viewer loyalty wavered thanks to a less-than-compelling final group. Liguori spun the numbers to emphasize that if you include time-shifted Idol viewing, the season figures were only down 1 percent in total viewers and 3 percent among adults 18-49. Those numbers fail to mention how Idol started the season far, far above the previous year’s totals, but we won’t quibble.
"[T]he show is very, very strong and very much alive," Liguori says. "Now, again, Idol reboots every year, and you’re always one water-cooler contestant away from having an even bigger surge. And I think, with this show, we have every expectation that it’s going to be a solid performer and we have every expectation that the show does, in fact, age. But it’s still, as I’ve described to you — there’s still a feeling out there in the audience that there is an Idol season. That there is football season, baseball season and Idol season, and each and every year we ourselves are really humbled by the expectation for who’s new and what these characters are going to be."
There you have it — the next Sanjaya is right around the corner. Don’t worry.
Liguori also doesn’t think anybody should be worried about the state of creative affairs on 24 this season. Although viewership was nearly identical to last season, there was a sense that the sixth season of 24 failed to live up to the fifth, a season that saw the real-time drama break through with its first best drama Emmy. Fans complained that the season never matched the excitement of a literally explosive two-night premiere that culminated with the destruction of Valencia. Instead, audiences were treated to a dissection of Jack Bauer’s family tree, a series of disposable villains and at least one unresolved presidential assassination attempt.
"I would not categorize my view of the show last year as being disappointing," Liguori says. "By no means have I said that, nor will I. I think this is a show that is a living beast, which is, I think, the fun and the danger that the audience enjoys sharing. Each season they’re able to reset the table. Again, what I most admire about Joel [Surnow] and Bob [Cochran] and Howard [Gordon] is their creative courage. During the course of conversation as to what the new season will look like, it’s really enlightening, and a heck of a lot of fun to see them spitball ideas. In terms of a [season] bible, you know what, I don’t think — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I feel like part of the high-wire act is their process. There is a specific energy that goes into creating a season of 24. It’s a little bit like war strategy, I guess. It’s classic war strategies. You have a big strategy, the first bullet goes off, the war strategy goes out the window. I actually think that energy has served them well on the show."
That answer didn’t satisfy at least one critic, who argued that our increasingly negative response to the show, plus its disappearance from this year’s top Emmy roster, was an indication that something is, in fact, at least slightly broken.
"You know, frankly, especially on 24, that happens at the end and beginning of every season," Liguori replies. "It’s true — again, one, the show resets its table every year. Two, I’ve got to tell you those guys are dogged, but they’re also neurotic in a good way. They pick apart the weaknesses in their show. They don’t sit there and say that the show was perfect. But with all that being said, last year’s performance doesn’t require wholesale changes. By far and away, it has them put their game face on to say they have the opportunity for another day, another 24 hours, of which they have a bar that they have to jump over. And, you know, I can tell you that those guys are very competitive, and it fuels their creativity."
While American Idol and 24 aren’t broke, one show that is, unfortunately, is the short-lived serial Drive, which was quickly pulled from the air this spring. FOX then teased the show’s few fans with several scheduled-and-cancelled burn-offs before just putting the show up online, an issue that Liguori addressed.
"It will always be a complicated issue with serialized shows," he says. "I do hope, given the amount of broadband that is out there, that actually airing those two online will be satisfying for the loyalists of the show. I think in general, we’ve discussed this at TCAs and we’ve discussed it in general our first week, if you are going to dive into serialized shows, I think what is important for the industry is somehow you bring some closure to those shows. It may not always be on broadcast with a lot of marketing, but again, when these shows wind up having a narrow group of loyalists, we try to satisfy them."