'American Idol' And The Golden Age Of Reality Television

ABC’s plan to revive “American Idol” has me thinking that it's high time that the era in which “Idol” was introduced 15 years ago be considered now for “Golden Age” designation.

A Golden Age of Reality Television? You betcha.

First of all, consider the long-running reality shows that are still on today that got their starts back then: On CBS, “Survivor” (premiered May 2000), “Big Brother” (July 2000) and “The Amazing Race” (September 2001); and on ABC, “The Bachelor” (March 2002) and “Dancing With the Stars” (June 2005).

These shows have been on so long that you can even get away with describing them as venerable. The same can be said for “American Idol” (pictured above, with Ryan Seacrest), which started its phenomenal run on Fox in June 2002.



It lasted all the way up until April 2016, when it ended its final season on Fox. But just yesterday (May 9), ABC announced it intends to bring the show back next season.

The network's announcement included no details such as a host, judges or a premiere date. The network likely made this announcement now even without these particulars because its upfront presentation is scheduled for next Tuesday, and “American Idol” is sure to be a part of that. Perhaps these other details will be announced then.

For ABC, an “Idol” revival gives the network its very own singing-competition show at a time when “The Voice” is still performing strongly on NBC.

On ABC, “Idol” has the potential to make ABC a triple threat in prime-time reality since it already has long-running franchises in dance-competition (“DWTS”) and relationships (“The Bachelor”). ABC positioned this triple-threat outcome as a leading element in its rationale to make a deal with Fremantle Media to bring back the show.

One might actually consider “Idol” as representing a fourth reality franchise for ABC. The network is also a leader in so-called “business” reality-TV with the omnipresent “Shark Tank.” 

The view from here is that “American Idol” still has legs. A reboot -- based on brand-awareness alone -- is certainly an idea worth trying.

As MediaPost columnist Wayne Friedman is pointing out elsewhere, it's a move in line with other recent reports about TV-show revivals from not that long ago, such as NBC's plan to put “Will & Grace” back together.

If the networks are reconstituting scripted sitcoms (such as “Roseanne,” which is also reportedly headed for a revival), then why not a venerable reality show such as “American Idol”?

For that matter, despite the experience NBC had this past season with its own revival of “The Celebrity Apprentice” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the original show, “The Apprentice” (minus the celebrities), should also be eyed for a revival.

“The Apprentice” first premiered with you-know-who (hint: He is now President of the United States) in January 2004. In today's environment, a business reality-competition show is even more appropriate given the success of “Shark Tank” and its many imitators.

Get back to real people, and not celebrities, and make the right pick for fictional “CEO/host,” and a new “Apprentice” could potentially be a strong addition to the current slate of long-running reality shows from the early- to mid-’00s.

Clearly, this group of shows, some dating back to the year 2000, has staying power, which is no small feat in the television business. They come from an era in which reality television was still new and the networks -- particularly Fox in those days -- were in a decidedly experimental state of mind.

For a TV columnist, the era was like a bottomless gold mine. No one alive back then will ever forget Fox's great contributions to our popular culture such as: “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?,” “Joe Millionaire,” “Man Vs. Beast” (in which men had footraces with camels and horses), “The Littlest Groom” (about a dwarf's search for love), “Love Cruise” (the “relationship” show on a luxury yacht that was scheduled to premiere on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001) and myriad (and gluttonous) prime-time eating competitions.

A Golden Age? You better believe it. Or to put it another way: If “American Idol” is headed for a revival, can “Man Vs. Beast” be far behind?

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