FOX did not move American Idol 5‘s two episodes to Wednesdays and Thursdays, even though the network was expected to do so. Instead, the series stays where we expect it to be, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, debuting Jan. 17. So why didn’t the show move?
Here’s my theory. First, let’s be honest: The results show sucks. The only reason viewers tune in is for the last two minutes when Ryan Seacrest reveals who is going home. The rest is just recaps, manipulation (“You’re in the group with the other crappy singers–and you’re safe!”), product-placement “commercials,” and time-filling stupidity. You can miss the Wednesday episode and catch up in five seconds by visiting the show’s web site. And when the results show gets expanded to an hour, it’s excruciating and nearly entirely pointless.
Still, reports suggested that, once moved to Thursdays, the results show would have been permanently expanded to an hour. Airing at 9 p.m. opposite CBS’ powerhouse CSI, my theory is that the results show would have been decimated in the ratings. Or, at the very least, it would have been seriously wounded. Here are some numbers to back up my thesis: For the 2003-2004 season, American Idol‘s performance episode was television’s top-rated series, followed by CSI in second place and the results show in third. The exact same thing was true in the 2004-2005 television year, which included last season of the show. CSI and the results show ranked second and third respectively. Both years, the results show was watched by 1.4 million viewers fewer than watched the performance show. That’s not a huge difference, but especially considering that the results show is shorter, it indicates that some viewers just don’t care enough to watch it.
Forced to choose between television’s most popular drama and the lamest part of television’s most popular reality show on Thursdays, my guess is that some viewers would have picked CSI, if only to tune in to FOX for the last few minutes of Idol. Certainly some viewers would stay with the results show, because they’re masochists or brain-dead, but if enough people bailed, it could have hurt the series’ reputation and ratings, which have led it to become the most expensive series on television.
The Tuesday and Wednesday timeslots that American Idol has occupied for the past three years are, in fact, safe. There isn’t tremendous competition on any network, especially because now, no one is willing to schedule against it. But CBS probably wouldn’t have pulled CSI. And keeping things the same keeps the FOX franchise safe, which is important, because at least four more seasons will follow this year’s competition.