Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori says he is relieved, but not satisfied, with the Tuesday night debut ratings for American Idol. And he adds that he’s "optimistic" as well.
The show opened to an 11.6/28 rating, down 16% from last season's 13.8/23.
Liguori told B&C he is relieved because "it is tough to expect the No. 1 show, the broadest show on television, to defy broadcast viewing habits," which has been a all-too-consistently down-trending as the viewing options on TV and online explode.
Unsatisfied, he said, because he does year-to-year Idol comparisons. "When you look within Idol's galaxy, you do not want to see the show erode," he said.
But he said he is "somewhat optimistic that the annual dip on Idol during the middle episodes will lessen," citing the creative changes made this season when Fox "rolled up its sleeves to give the audience more of what they want." Those changes included cutting back the number of audition shows from four to three, adding another week in Hollywood, and adding fourth judge Kara DioGuardi, who he said has been well received. He also says the show will be "is a little more aspirational," which he said appeals to its female audience.
The premiere episode ended with the audition of a visually-impaired contestant who talked about the challenges he had overcome. Was that part of playing up the aspirational aspect?
"I would say that was less engineered than inspired,” Liguori says. “He came to those auditions and moved everyone in the production. That aspiration was of his creation, not ours."
Even given his dissatisfaction over ratings declines, Fox has to be pleased that Idol was still able to top all the other nets combined. A mountain is still a mountain, after all, even if it starts from an eroded landscape.
"That is a really good point," said Liguori. "Last year the premiere of American Idol was 55% stronger than the premiere of Grey's Anatomy. This year, it is 57% stronger. If you look from bellwether show to bellwether show, we have maintained our strength. But again, we are not satisfied with that."
He is looking for some solid word of mouth from the premiere and better things to come. "This is a show that is 40-plus hours strong, and only the first two hours have been told."