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'American Idol': It's a humble end to a show that changed television during the first decade of the 21st century

January 7, 2016

Not long ago, "American Idol" was such a ratings juggernaut that a rival TV executive dubbed it a "monster" that should be killed. That wish has now been granted, with Fox executives announcing Monday that they will end the record-breaking singing contest after it finishes its 2016 season.

 

Fox executives had long vowed that "Idol" could run for years past its peak, like "Survivor" or "The Amazing Race." "Idol" was the top-ranked show for eight years, with audiences in its heyday regularly topping the 30-million-viewers mark.

 

FULL COVERAGE: Saying farewell to 'American Idol'

 

But the show has been staggering for years. This season, the viewership has shrunk to barely 10 million, and the show — once a virtual mint for Fox — has seen its huge profits disappear, industry experts say.

 

It's a humble end to a show that changed television during the first decade of the 21st century, proving that broadcasters could still be relevant in an age of media fragmentation and helping spawn a wave of hit talent shows, including "Dancing With the Stars" and "America's Got Talent."

 

"This was the biggest show on television by a mile, not like the normal 'biggest show,' " said Mike Darnell, a veteran reality TV executive who helped oversee "Idol" for years at Fox and now works in a top role for Warner Bros. "For about six years there, it was 30% or 40% above the next biggest thing on TV. An absolute phenomenon.''

 

"But eventually, any show is going to start to erode. Nothing lasts forever," Darnell added. "It's sad. It feels like the end of an era. … I don't honestly believe anything will ever approach the numbers it was getting at its peak."

 

The first decade of the new millennium was a golden age for reality TV, with shows such as "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" dominating the headlines. But no show so eclipsed its competitors like "Idol," which started unassumingly as a limited summer series on Fox in 2002. It was an Americanized version of "Pop Idol," a British series that ran for two seasons on ITV.

 

"American Idol" proved an instant hit. The trio of original judges — the British-born music executive Simon Cowell along with former '80s pop queen Paula Abdul and bassist and record producer Randy Jackson — blended with an appealing on-screen chemistry. Cowell became a star with his wisecracks and sometimes nasty put-downs of aspiring singers.

 

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