Fox’s Peter Rice: ‘American Idol’ Is ‘Aging Gracefully,’ But Contestants Are a Problem

TCA 2014: Rice says show needs to find contestants who capture public’s imagination

“American Idol” is “aging gracefully” but needs to do a better job of finding contestants who “capture the imagination of the public,” Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO Peter Rice said Sunday.

“Idol” still performs well for Fox, but not as well as it did when it helped Fox rule in the key 18-49 demographic for nearly a decade. Rice said Fox was happy with the production of the show last season and received good viewer feedback on the judges.

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His one complaint? The contestants.

“We haven’t found in the last two years a group of kids who’ve captured the imagination of the public,” he said at a Television Critics Association panel on Sunday.

Between “Idol,” NBC’s “The Voice” and ABC’s “Rising Star,” the competition for singing shows is intense, he noted. One reporter asked half-jokingly if he was worried about running out of “kids.”

“We’re always making more,” he said.

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Rice also said there was a chance of reviving “24” for another run, and that he hoped “Bones” won’t end after this season. And he explained the decision to abandon the ambitious Egyptian drama “Hieroglyph”  before it airs.

“When you take a swing that big, you have to land it,” he said. “We ultimately all looked at it and thought, ‘We’re not going to get there.’”

Rice spoke at TCA’s Fox executive session because the new heads of the network, Dana Walden and Gary Newman, had previous commitments. The pair head Fox’s TV  studio, 20th Century Fox, and Fox is restructuring to bring the network under their control as well.

The heads of ABC and NBC also run both their networks and studios, and Rice said Fox has been “sort of the odd man out in terms of how the other networks were aligned.” He said the new arrangement will streamline Fox’s process of attracting top talent.

He also said Fox won’t reverse a decision by previous network head Kevin Reilly to abandon pilot season. At a January TCA panel, Reilly appeared under an illustration of a tombstone reading “R.I.P. Fox ‘Pilot Season’ 1986-2013.”

Rice said he thought that gesture has been misunderstood. He said Reilly wasn’t pledging to order shows without shooting pilots, but rather was committing to shooting pilots at various times of the year.

That is in keeping with Fox’s approach to this past season, when it ordered shows throughout the year. The traditional pilot season begins in winter and runs through spring.

“We’re going to be very flexible,” Rice said. “We will make pilots in February. But sometimes we’ll make them in September.”