American Idol may never have been awarded a Primetime Emmy, but Executive Producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick will try to help the awards show bounce back from its dismal ratings performance last year. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Fox are turning to the producers of TV's top show to work their magic on the awards show, which Fox will air Sept. 16. As they shepherd Idol through yet another year of ratings dominance, Lythgoe and Warwick spoke to B&C's Ben Grossman about their early plans for the Emmys and what is keeping Idol the envy of the industry.
What are your initial thoughts on what to do with the Emmy Award show?
Nigel Lythgoe: What we can bring to it depends on who we can bring to it. We haven't begun to talk hosts, but we love music and comedy. We love dancing.
It can't be just patting people on the back. We like to think we will be a little more dangerous than in the past. But, to be clear, this will not look like American Idol.
What are the challenges of putting this show together?
Ken Warwick: You have to keep all of the networks happy and talk through things with the Academy. But in the end, if we are happy, then usually the show is good. If you took too seriously the sensibilities of everybody, you wouldn't get anywhere. They picked us hopefully because of our track record. Plus, it can't go too bad—you have to give out 27 awards or something ridiculous. There's only so much time.
How about the perception now that award shows are tired?
Warwick: I totally agree. They are crowded and hot and stuffy, and it is kind of like a feeding frenzy.
Hopefully, we are going to change that a little, as much as we can. Our object is to get to the end and have people say, “It's over already?”
Will the show be tightly choreographed?
Lythgoe: The things that occur on shows that are not pre-planned are sometimes the most interesting things.
We can only put scenarios out there and cross our fingers that things happen.
That is the general way you produce a reality show, which this is.
Warwick: We don't over-preproduce Idol. If you do that, you paint yourself into a corner. For [last Thursday's Idol], we put most of it together the morning before we aired.
That is our way of doing it, so we have the confidence to do it [with the Emmys].
Are you surprised that Idol's ratings are still so strong?
Lythgoe: Yes. I think [NBC Universal chief Jeff] Zucker took our breath away by being so complimentary [when he said Idol was the “most impactful show in the history of television”].
It's true this is unheard of. I don't think we will see it again.
Last Wednesday's show featuring the female performers seemed to be a lot better than Tuesday's show with the boys. Were you worried after Tuesday?
Warwick: Wednesday was a hell of a lot better. The girls are much better than the boys. But the boys were bloody nervous. I wasn't worried Tuesday, because I knew the girls were great. And if that continues, all the boys will get voted off first in the final 12.
There's nothing you can do about it, so there's no point worrying.
The show's numbers remain solid, even with basically no format changes from last year. Do you have any changes up your sleeve for the remainder of this season?
Warwick: There is talk of us doing a songwriting competition, where people will submit songs, the record company will pick them, and Idol contestants will sing them.
But we would need two more hours of broadcast time—it would be two specials.
But Fox might not want it. We are already on 45 hours. They might say that is enough.
Lythgoe: We don't want any more guest judges. We will invite the [star singers to come on as] coaches again, but we are not really tweaking anything else.
Are you surprised that knockoffs of Idol, other singing competitions, continue to surface?
Warwick: Yeah, to be honest. I'm just glad we still do it better than anyone else. We know the other networks run for the hills when Idol comes on, so of course they want to make their own.
Lythgoe: I'm not. It's exactly the same as in the scripted world. If you have a House, you change the genre a bit and change it into Shark.
Did you watch the Grease competition show on NBC?
Lythgoe: I find it difficult to watch stage performances on television. It's a bit over the top for me. I know the idea of it as it came from England.
It seems like anything that's on in England, we're going to have to put it on here and then add an English judge so he can be rude.
Maybe we'll have to get an English host for the Emmys so he can be rude. “I don't like you, you don't get an award.“