Almost immediately after Fox took American Idol off the air last year, ABC picked up the legendary singing competition for a new season, signing pop superstar Katy Perry as one of its celebrity judges. Now, Fox is making a new singing series to directly compete with ABC’s version of Idol.
Next year, Fox will begin airing The Four, an “experimental” reality singing series, the network announced today at a press conference in Beverly Hills, California. In an apparent dig at Idol and other popular singing shows like NBC’s The Voice, Fox TV CEO Dana Walden said The Four will be much less about celebrity judging panels, and “much more about star-making.”
The show will start with four finalists who must subsequently defend their spots on the stage from weekly challengers. Fans at home can submit audition videos to The Four and find themselves singing on stage a week later. Fox reality TV chief Rob Wade said the show will be like a sports event, comparing it to American Ninja Warrior, where amateur athletes compete to finish obstacle courses.
Fox decided to end American Idol‘s historic 15-year run in 2016. “The economics were terrible,” Walden said: It had grown too expensive, and when ratings plunged in its later years they no longer justified the lofty cost. Over the second half of the show’s run, it eschewed lower-profile judges in favor of big names, like Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, and Nicki Minaj. As ratings plummeted, Fox faced a decision—revamp the series, or say goodbye to it.
It opted to let another network try to figure out the economics. Walden added that Fox had wanted to experiment with the format, but FremantleMedia, the production company that owns the show, “felt like the format worked and wanted to protect it.” The Four will not last as many episodes as a typical season of Idol and will ostensibly be much cheaper to produce. (Fox has not yet announced the judges for The Four, but they are unlikely to be as famous as Perry.)
Just months after Fox canned Idol, ABC picked it up, proving that America just can’t quit its reality television. ABC now has the difficult task of making the show recognizable to American Idol fans while injecting it with something new to differentiate it from the original Fox version.
Its first move was to hire Katy Perry for a reported $25 million salary, an enormous sum for one judge. Fox was clearly unwilling to pay such an amount to keep Idol on its network. The two shows—Idol and The Four—will compete in 2018, and we’ll find out which network made the mistake: Fox letting Idol go, or ABC bringing it back so quickly.