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Published: January 17, 2008 at 01:41 AM GMT
Last Updated: March 13, 2008 at 01:41 AM GMT
Pay no attention to television journalists who are trying to make dire headlines out of the fact that the Season 8 premiere of American Idol Tuesday night was down a couple of ratings points from that of Season 7. Given the state of media affairs at the moment, any such slippage for the mighty Idol is mighty irrelevant.
Even without the ravages of the WGA strike, Idol would once again be The Only Show That Matters for millions of Americans. Its post-Sanjaya slump last season is of no concern to the millions of viewers who embrace this show over all others, nor the thousands who turned out last summer and fall for Idol auditions in seven cities around the country.
It's great to see the media get Idolized again. When the anchors on Fox' Good Day, New York and The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet began chatting Wednesday about the more memorable auditions on Tuesday night's Idol telecast it felt as if no time had passed since last spring. Actually, Idol's value goes way beyond Fox. Its ongoing success boosts all of broadcast. If you think TV is sucking gas in Month 3 of the writers' strike, try to imagine the day when Idol truly loses steam and disappears altogether. That will be a downward turn for television, one from which there may very likely be no rebound.
But we don't need to concern ourselves with that right now. The still formidable Idol is at the center of a midseason schedule at Fox that must have executives at the other four broadcast networks pounding nails into their heads. Fox' Sunday night animated series are in fine shape, continuing to appeal to their targeted young demos. Monday's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is already one of the hottest new scripted series of the year. Tuesday and Wednesday are fortified with American Idol, and next week The Moment of Truth -- likely to be the most talked-about new reality series of the year -- will join Idol on Wednesday. (Idol will also be telecast on Thursday from mid-February to mid-March.) Meanwhile, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? is holding up just fine on Thursday (while introducing Fox to millions of kids for whom television starts at The Disney Channel and stops at Nickelodeon). As always, Friday remains a wild card, but the network has several short-flight shows ready to go on that night. Cops and America's Most Wanted could and should run forever on Saturday.
Strike? What strike? House and Bones are the only important Fox shows impacted by the WGA, and they hold up well in repeats. 24, absent this season, will only benefit from putting additional time between its awful sixth season and the start of its seventh.
Putting the focus back on the welcome media mammoth that is Idol, even if it is beginning to lose a little momentum ratings wise its influence on American popular culture is stronger than ever. As expected, the show virtually exploded on the Internet before Tuesday's two-hour season premiere was over. A flood of young people who were total unknowns before 8 p.m. began showing up in clips on YouTube by 10 p.m. Six years ago, when Idol made its debut, most of the bad singers in the show's audition installments were laughed at and then forgotten. Now, even the worst of them is instantly immortalized on the Internet minutes after we see them on Fox, and that flash notoriety is theirs to build upon, for better or worse.
Video clips of the colorful characters from Tuesday's show are all there: Sparkle-faced whack-job Alexis Cohen, who launched into a vulgar, extended tirade after being rejected (and was interviewed on Fox News Channel on Wednesday!); handsome nice guy James Lewis, whose bizarre rendition of Go Down Moses and distinctive pronunciation of the word "people" had judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul (and this writer) weeping with laughter; heart-breaking 16-year-old Temptress Brown, who dissolved into tears after being rejected (and who will probably be invited to participate in this season's finale in May); delightful cage-fighter and horse-trainer Kristy Lee Cook, seemingly a shoe-in for the Top 24.
The contestant I predict will begin turning up on television and Internet talk shows and possibly in person at fan events is creepy Paul Marturano, whose funny-scary song about stalking Paula Abdul came off like an Internet-bound music video. ("If she were a doggie, I would walk her. If she were a bathtub, I would caulk her. If she were Columbo, I'd Peter Falk her.") Certainly, there is nothing humorous about stalkers. They terrify people and sometimes kill. But these days anything goes online -- and on Fox. Like I said above, just wait for the fuss that follows The Moment of Truth.
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