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March 31, 2013

Star power can't lift 'Idol,' but it's still a winner for Fox


But in February executives at News Corp. reported that lower ratings at “Idol” and “X Factor” are hurting the bottom line, and the picture for the former has darkened since then. “We have had a very disappointing year, ratings-wise,” News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey told analysts.

The network is scrambling to put the best face on the situation.

“At these current (ratings) levels, obviously we’re going to be on for a very, very long time,” said Mike Darnell, Fox’s president of alternative programming. He called the declines “fully expected.”

The addition of Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban as judges this year “proved that you can take what has become an institution and revamp it,” he said, adding that audiences are simply beginning to tire of singing shows. “There’s just a glut and everything’s suffering.”

Analysts agree that audiences have entered a state of singing-show fatigue. But Fox has compounded that problem by devoting huge chunks of its fall and spring schedules to singing contests that share the same lineage. “X Factor” stars Cowell, the former standout judge on “Idol.” The programs are so similar that litigation between Cowell and “Idol” creator Simon Fuller over the issue dates back nearly 10 years.

NBC’s Paul Telegdy, who oversees “The Voice,” scoffed at the notion of a glut.

“We do not lie awake with that show in our targets in any way,” Telegdy said. “I don’t care if it beats us. ‘The Voice’ dances to the rhythm of its own drummer.”

With ratings ebbing, “Idol” has been swept up into a horse race over celebrity judges, with each singing show trying to outdo the other with star firepower. And now Fox is beginning to see the downside of that approach.

Fremantle Media, which produces “Idol,” handed Carey a paycheck worth a reported $18 million, making her one of the highest-paid people on TV even though she had never been on a series before and her ability to deliver viewers was untested. “X Factor” paid Britney Spears $15 million last fall for a performance that was almost universally panned as drab and tentative — and the star nevertheless demanded a raise in contract renewal talks, reports said. She won’t be back next year.

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