Tuning In: Paula Abdul vs. 'American Idol'

Brian Steinberg on the Fall TV Season and Changes in the Industry

By Published on .

PROGRAM GUIDE

Paula Abdul to take on "American Idol"? We knew Paula Abdul was about to launch a new dance-themed contest on CBS in early 2011, but what we didn't know was that her program will compete with Fox's "American Idol," a show she was associated with for years. Does CBS sense blood in the water?

Paula Abdul's new CBS program, 'Live to Dance' will go up against Fox's 'Idol' on Wednesdays.
Paula Abdul's new CBS program, 'Live to Dance' will go up against Fox's 'Idol' on Wednesdays.
Wednesdays will be their battleground. "American Idol" is slated to run Tuesdays starting sometime in January between 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Fox, with its "results" show scheduled to air between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Wednesdays. Ms. Abdul's new program, "Live to Dance," will debut in a two-hour special on Tuesday, Jan. 4, and then move to a one-hour version on Wednesdays between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. starting Jan. 5.

It's true, "Idol's" ratings are off their highs and last season's finale was one of the program's lowest-rated in recent memory. But can a new dance show with Ms. Abdul at its center do similar numbers?

Worth noting: CBS is making certain Ms. Abdul won't battle the powerhouse Tuesday episode of "Idol," not after her debut is done, just the half-hour results show on Wednesdays. Then again, Fox has previously expanded the running time for "Idol" if viewer and advertiser demand runs high.

"Live to Dance," which shows dancers competing for a $500,000 prize, looks more focused on skill and talent and less likely to include the kitsch that seeps into ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" or the harsh judging that has sometimes become an element of "Idol." Starting Jan. 12, "Live to Dance" will be broadcast live, as six dance acts compete against each other to reach the final rounds.

As anyone who hasn't been cowering under a rock for the last decade knows, Ms. Abdul, already known for her work as a choreographer and a singer, enjoyed a long berth on "American Idol" as the "good cop" judge who often squared off against the acerbic Simon Cowell. With both now departed from what is arguably Fox's flagship show, intense speculation has focused on whether or not the program still has the chops to maintain its prime-time dominance. Ad buyers expect the show to continue to drop some of its ratings , but the program is still the biggest non-sports draw on TV.

Ms. Abdul can kick up a storm, but we're not sure her presence on CBS will stomp "Idol" out of existence. It is, however, definitely another challenge for Fox.

World Series slugfest: While seeing the Giants throttle the Rangers last night provided a thrill, the biggest battle at the World Series is the one going on behind the scenes. News Corp. and Cablevision still haven't come to terms over the price the cable company ought to pay the media concern for transmitting its Fox broadcast network, its New York-, New Jersey- and Philadelphia-area Fox stations and a few Fox cable outlets to boot -- or whatever combination of that group Cablevision wants. That leaves affected viewers unable to watch baseball's biggest annual event.

Should advertisers care?

It's true, this fracas could leave the World Series and other Fox fare with some diminution in ratings . Cablevision subscribers' absence, though, isn't hitting any one program at once. It's not like every single one of Cablevision's approximately 3.1 million customers would definitely tune in to the baseball match (or any particular Fox program) at a single time. Should the Series last more than four games, it's likely Fox could allocate some extra World Series inventory to make up for any shortfalls. (Also worth considering: World Series games tend to run late and sometimes into extra innings, giving the network another opportunity to dispense extra ad time if need be.)

Marketers should be more concerned, however, about the long-term effects of this brouhaha. Broadcast TV continues to suffer from ratings erosion as audiences find new ways to get the video-based news, entertainment and information the want. When you tell a large swatch of upper-income New York-area suburban dwellers that Cablevision can't or won't deliver some of the shows they love, well, that likely prompts them to try out some other method, whether it be Hulu, Verizon Fios or even illegal web surfing, to get the TV they want. Telling consumers to get used to some new method that doesn't involve traditional TV is a detrimental message for both Fox and Cablevision to be sending at a time when TV's hold on viewers is more tenuous than it has been in decades.

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