You can’t pay me to watch Fox’s American Idol, where the singing sounds like strangled cats and jingoism rears its ugly head with everything so “America this,” and “America that.” Now the network and the show’s producers are planning changes to reverse its declining ratings. Fox has introduced Grammy-nominated songwriter Kara DioGuardi as the fourth judge alongside Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. Some see DioGuardi’s intro as a way to eventually get rid of the allegedly pill-popping Paula after the eighth season gets underway in January. Fox sources do tell me there will be “more significant things happening in the small massaging of the format itself” as the network and producers look for ways to “shore up” the ratings. That doesn’t mean the bigwigs intend to present a whole new Idol. For instance, there’s no plan to get rid of host Ryan Seacrest (dammit ...).
Instead, I’m told the powers that be think the early rounds where viewers watch wannabes fall on their faces have become “too repetitive.” Instead, this season will spend more time with the contestants once they arrive in Hollywood. Says my insider: “The strength of the show is that the audience wants to meet those 20 contestants. So we’ll spend more time with them.”
Other changes are a result of Nigel Lythgoe recently stepping down as executive producer of American Idol and stepping back from the day-to-day producing. Now that the geezer is gone, the show’s music can be more updated. As a Fox source informs, “At one point, we had Neil Diamond on, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Dolly Parton. Nigel wanted to be old-school. But the show needs younger music.”
In any case, DioGuardi’s songs have appeared on more than 100 million records and been recorded by Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Céline Dion, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Santana, Pink, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Pussycat Dolls, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Natasha Bedingfield, Jewel, Ashley Tisdale, Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks, Bo Bice, Clay Aiken, Ashlee Simpson, Hilary Duff, Jessica Simpson, Kylie Minogue, Enrique Iglesias, Nick Lachey and Marc Anthony. DioGuardi co-owns Arthouse Entertainment, where she develops songwriters, producers and artists.
Why isn’t Andrés Martinez suing the Los Angeles Times?
Fired Los Angeles Times editorial-page editor Andrés Martinez on August 21 sued his ex-girlfriend Kelly Mullens of the entertainment PR firm 42West over Grazergate from March 2007. Mullens’ lawyer told me that Martinez, who now works for a Washington, D.C., think tank, had been threatening this Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit since April, when Mullens obtained a temporary restraining order against him for his alleged bizarre behavior toward her. As an insider said to me, “Martinez should get a therapist, not a lawyer.”
Martinez, in the lawsuit, says he and Mullens dated from September 2005 until they broke up in July 2007, after Grazergate, then reconciled, then broke up again in December 2007. But his complaint focuses on Mullens’ insistence on publicizing megaproducer Brian Grazer’s short-lived stint as the guest editor of the L.A. Times’ Sunday Currents section. Martinez alleges that he asked Mullens not to get involved, and she agreed, because of the seeming impropriety of him selecting one of her clients at the same time they were having a romantic relationship.
But Martinez is claiming she went back on her promise to him. A bad situation for him turned worse when Martinez lost his job at the Times. Martinez claims he reasonably relied on Mullens’ promises, and that his reputation suffered “great and irreparable harm” due to Mullens’ actions. But, back during Grazergate, Martinez wrote that Mullens “did nothing wrong.”
I say he has a better case against the Los Angeles Times. After all, it wasn’t just Martinez who approved of Grazer but also his boss, publisher David Hiller, who admitted that he’d known about the Martinez-Mullens romantic relationship and still gave the go-ahead to the producer’s guest gig.
But only Martinez was the lone victim of a tug of war between the paper’s newsroom — worried about a cover-up — and the editorial board, concerned about its independence. So why is Martinez going after Mullens instead of the Times?
I think this is the reason: Back on April 7, I and a few other Los Angeles journalists were sent an anonymous e-mail from an “Allan” that contained really icky allegations about Mullens’ professional life intersecting with her personal life. A week after the e-mail about her was sent, Mullens obtained a temporary restraining order against Martinez in Washington, D.C., Superior Court ordering him to, among other things, stop sending e-mails she alleges he wrote about her to journalists, employees at 42West and her mother.
Her sworn affidavit that accompanied it is, quite simply, astonishing in its accusations that Martinez had harassed her with communications that had “grown more extreme, violent and suicidal.”
Mullens’ lawyer accused Martinez of filing “a meritless and clearly frivolous” lawsuit that attempts to retaliate against his ex. “Ms. Mullens will not be bullied by Mr. Martinez’s abuse of the legal system; she intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit and she is confident she will prevail.”
Jeers for NBC’s Beijing Olympics
NBC is crowing over how its Beijing Olympics has been the most watched American TV event of all time. But all I can think about is what a lost promotional opportunity this was for the network whose fall prime-time schedule is a wasteland when it comes to both quantity and quality of new shows and specials.
How pathetic that Christian Slater’s lame “my evil twin is me” series seemed all that NBC had to market over and over ad nauseam during the games. It’s already clear that Jeff Zucker’s brilliant idea to save money by killing the pilot season backfired big-time, and NBC will wind up in fourth place yet again.
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Still, at a time when U.S. networks even have trouble attracting dougle-digit Nielsen ratings for shows, the Olympics are a big reminder that eyeballs and not just demographics do matter to advertisers. NBC reached a record $1 billion in ad sales before the start of these Olympics, and pulled in another $25 million after the games began.
Which is why next time around NBC is going to face stiff competition for the U.S. broadcasting rights to the Olympics after their contract expires in 2012. For instance, ESPN and Fox said last week they plan to be in on the bidding process for at least the 2014 Winter Games and 2016 Summer Games when the IOC begins the auction process next year.
I say a change is long overdue. For one thing, Bob Costas is no Jim McKay, and he clearly was afraid to ask hard questions or adequately express pathos over the unthinkable tragedy of a murder and near-murder at the games, much less arrests or human rights.
But even overall, NBC’s coverage in Beijing was overedited and ridiculously compliant to the Chinese government, and the programming still failed to let viewers watch what they wanted when they wanted on TV or online despite all the hype promising just that.