Is the Music TV Show Dead?


Fox began airing American Idol in June of 2002 and for eight straight years it was the number one rated TV show in America. It so outdrew the competition that the other networks pretty much gave up trying to counter program it. But now it is fading fast and even it’s newer rival The Voice is having a hard time drawing the younger audience advertisers crave. Bill Carter suggests that this is just one more example of too much of a good thing.

It is hardly the first time television has burned out a genre through mass imitation and overexposure. Networks rode westerns into the ground. They exhausted the audience with singers trying variety shows. At one point, almost every night had a newsmagazine. And, most famously, ABC ran the sprockets off its game show hit “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” with four episodes a week at its height, leading to a plunge in ratings and its relegation into syndication.

But I think there is something more to it than that. Idol arrived at that particular moment in American culture when our feelings were still raw from 9/11. The country needed a little old-fashioned simple entertainment in which multiple generations could share an experience. Simon Cowell, the Svengali behind Idol was smart enough to choose singers in the early days like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Taylor Hicks that could appeal to a broad demographic. And so for a while Idol could actually manufacture stars. But by 2011, that stopped happening. The fans grew tired of the highly produced pop and all of the me too shows like X Factor and even The Voice have failed to produce the kind of platinum selling artists that Idol turned out.

Cultures go through periods of manufactured pop followed by periods of more authentic and rougher artistry. Think about the transition from the wildness of Elvis and Little Richard in the mid 1950’s to the totally manufactured pop of Frankie Avalon and Fabian in 1960 and then back to rough reality of Bob Dylan in 1964. My guess is that we are in one of those periods where the rough authentic music is what is popular and the idea that Simon Cowell or Blake Shelton can “make a star” is fading into the sunset.

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3 Responses to Is the Music TV Show Dead?

  1. Fentex says:

    I reserve judgement on music, for I don’t consider myself particularly knowledgeable about it, but I thought U.S television drama and comedy was improving long before people started talking about it’s new Golden Age.

    Even before it became the destination for talent drawn from movies I thought I noticed not so much an increase in cynicism as a decrease in naivete that leant maturity to the art.

    It’s become much more obvious now with programs like Mom that have abandoned coy treatment of life’s dangers and peoples frailties.

    I wondered when I first noticed this if it were a reflection of wide spread reconsideration of the worlds nature and the U.S’s place in the trail of 9/11 and with shadows of economic danger looming.

    I don’t feel the market for Idol would be much affected by such things, it may have just petered out it’s generation has moved on.

  2. RickTurner says:

    For me, “television” is dead. In my last divorce, she got the TV, and I never looked back at Sodom and Gomorrah. Those times when I have seen shows like Idol or Voice, I’ve been seriously underwhelmed by how over-the-top histrionics seem to be the artistic currency of the day. All that pseudo black gospel ornamentation to the exclusion of melody is just a bore. It’s like all the bad guitar wanking that goes on in heavy metal music.

    For two singers who knew how to deliver a melody:

    And if I’m going to listen to gospel, make it Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Ralph Stanley or Peter Rowan.

  3. len says:

    Stars can still be manufactured but it costs more and it doesn’t go as far. On the other hand, look at the Carrie Underwood/Bo Bice outcome. At the end of it, the better singer got the bigger career. I think as our long screeds on the topic concluded, for the long run, quality trumps glitter.

    It may be time to claim the “collective” label that the Koch Bros heaps on the industry with scorn because in the face of the technology changes, the artists who work in collectives do as well as can be done. Callie’s Nashville is brilliant in that respect however one may feel about Dallas With Guitars. Crews who can collectively produce complex commercial works that are difficult to steal or emulate feed a not inconsiderable number of tribe members. Songwriters, singers, actors, session musicians, grips, and so forth have jobs. A brand has been created and along with it.. paychecks. This is significant and though it is hard and the mavens have to live on airplanes, they are keeping the people in work. And that is very cool. Otherwise it will all come down to guys like me and the public deserves better. So for the thinness of these Make A Star shows, that is what Nashville does too with it’s cast, that is what Simon did with his and the beat goes on.

    IMO, not humble or important, it still comes down to good songs. It still comes down to people who can write them, produce them and get them to an audience. The turd in the punchbowl is a good song is not worth what it once was and that by twists of cause and effect makes it more important to find good ones, good writers, good singers, good players, good producers and good instruments and insure their future together.

    People who hang out here are the people who do that. From what I can see from the cheap seats, you are adapting, you are learning and you ARE innovating. AND you take the time and spend resources fighting for the opportunities of the next generation meaning that for all your privilege you do good works for the right reasons.

    Que bueno. Good comes of good. Bad fades.

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