April 24, 2012 at 11:19 AM ET
Ryan Seacrest agreed to a contract extension with “American Idol” this week, and his continued willingness to fit the twice-weekly dates with Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler into his busy schedule is bad news for the rest of the talent show landscape.
“Idol” is vulnerable now, as its aggressive competition and ratings slippage indicate. It is not what it was five years ago when it was producing big stars regularly and was the show everyone avoided programming against. The fear factor surrounding the show is gone. But it’s still No. 1 as far as reality shows go and the host is a major reason why.
We've mentioned before about how important it was for “Idol” to reach a deal with Seacrest, and there are many reasons he’s critical to the show’s success. The credibility he brings to the broadcast is unlike anything that the competition has to offer, or is likely to get anytime soon.
Seacrest was effusive in his tributes to Dick Clark over the past week on all the media platforms he’s associated with. He considered Clark to be a mentor, and the entertainment legend seems to have passed Seacrest the aura of comfort and credibility that Clark brought to “American Bandstand.” Much like Clark seemed to be rooting for every act on “Bandstand” to make it big, Seacrest convincingly sells the notion that all of the “Idol” hopefuls are just a little luck away from becoming big stars -- and given the popularity of his other outlets, he has the power to help make that happen even after the finale.
Perhaps because Seacrest is impossible to replicate, the typical response from rivals to the “Idol” dominance has been to focus on getting better judges. That’s not a wrong answer -- Howard Stern makes “America’s Got Talent” must-see TV this summer -- but it can be a very short-term solution that costs a lot of money for a little bit of buzz. Just ask Simon Cowell how that reunion with Paula Abdul worked out last year on “X Factor.” Spending the money to keep Seacrest in the fold is a safer investment than trying to generate excitement with someone new.
The renewal is particularly important now because this is the first year that “Idol” seems to be feeling the heat. “The Voice” generated a lot of buzz after its strong opening season in the fall, and began the spring season with a huge number following the Super Bowl. Cowell is chirping about a battle between the singing show champions as he looks to get “X Factor” to the next level. Stern’s arrival brings “America’s Got Talent” into the conversation as something other than a summertime guilty pleasure.
That increased competition is having an effect. Though “Idol” likes to stay above the fray, Randy Jackson has mentioned how much better “Idol” is than its rivals several times this season -- a departure for a show that tends to forget it has any rivals at all. It clearly feels the rivals nipping at its heels. But while “Idol” may be feeling the heat, there won’t be any hosting competition for another few years now that Seacrest is back in the fold.
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