'Idol' Overtime Pays Off for Adam Lambert

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, April 9, 2009

"American Idol" ran nearly nine minutes long Tuesday, preventing potentially millions of viewers who rely on their DVRs from seeing the performance of Adam Lambert -- which, in turn, affected the number of viewer votes Lambert received.

Luckily for Fox, Lambert, one of this season's most popular Idolettes, was not given the old heave-ho the next night; it was Scott MacIntyre instead who had received the fewest votes from viewers Tuesday night and was removed from the competition at the end of last night's results-and-product-plugging show.

Neither host Ryan Seacrest nor any of the "Idol" judges in any way acknowledged the show's potentially serious blunder. However, when the results show finally got down to it, Lambert was the very first Idolette Seacrest dealt with, and the host noted that the previous night Simon Cowell had had to speak for all the judges (because, of course, there had been no time for the other judges to critique Lambert's performance).

But Seacrest didn't ask Lambert how he felt about being handled differently from all the other competitors during Tuesday's show. Rather, he was asked how he felt about having received a standing ovation from Cowell.

"I was extremely honored," Lambert said. "I really appreciate that gesture. I've never seen that before, and I've been watching the show for eight years. . . . I'm very flattered -- thank you."

Which, of course, is exactly what Fox had hoped he would say.

Seacrest also had the other judges -- Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul -- critique Lambert's Tuesday performance. All three showered him with praise -- 24 hours after those comments might have made a difference in how viewers voted.

In a statement yesterday, Fox said: " 'American Idol' is a live performance show and as with all live programming, there are unpredictable elements that affect running time. But it declined to answer any questions about the overrun problem -- more on that later.

"While producers attempted to end the show on time, last night featured eight contestant performances and was the first hour-long performance show of the season. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused," Fox continued.

Here's the problem with that statement. Yes, it was the first hour-long performance show of the season. But it is the eighth season with a first hour-long performance show. Shouldn't they have it down by now? Did "Idol" producers forget they'd added a fourth judge this year, which would cause the show to run, you know, longer?

According to Nielsen stats, the difference between the number of people who watch "Idol's" Tuesday show live and the number who watch later Tuesday via DVR is around 3 million. There are no stats that indicate how many of those 3 million watch "Idol" via DVR within two hours of the broadcast's conclusion and could therefore cast votes for contestants. Viewer votes determine who is booted each week from the competition, and viewers have two hours after each performance episode to phone and text in as many votes as they want for as many different Idolettes as they want.

Viewers let Fox know how they felt about the overrun in no uncertain terms. Like this viewer who, on Fox's "Idol" site, wrote:

How many thousands (millions?) of viewers didn't even SEE the final performance last night because the show ran over and DVR technology doesn't compensate for that? Regardless of who your favorite contestant is, that's hurtful to whoever the final singer each night might be. FOX should really do something about them running over because however many millions might be voting without seeing the entire show. . . . is FOX even aware this is a problem???

And, in answer to that question, we're guessing Fox knows it has a problem because it was in duck-and-cover mode yesterday in response to all questions about Tuesday's performance show.

Fox, for instance, declined to answer a question as to whether the producers had done a full dress rehearsal before Tuesday's live broadcast, including the judges (or stand-ins) giving comments on the performances to gauge how long the show would run. This would have been particularly important since, as Fox said, this week was attempting to jam eight Idolettes into a one-hour performance show for the first time this season.

Fox also declined to answer whether anyone in the network's reality-TV department or among the show's producers had heard from Fox's Standards and Practices Department regarding the overrun. "Idol" typically has someone from S&P attend the Tuesday performance shows -- that's par for the course at TV networks when it comes to performance programs, because networks want to make sure all contestants are given an equal opportunity.

Fox also would not say whether changes were being made to "Idol" to make sure this kind of overrun, which could potentially affect voting results, would not happen again.

Fox did, however, post on its "Idol" Web site yesterday morning the following message: "DVR cut off? See what you missed for free!" and Lambert's performance. (They were mulling charging a fee?) Of course, by the time they posted it, it was too late to vote for Lambert if you liked what you saw.

And Seacrest.com, Web site of the show's host, who contributed mightily to Tuesday's overrun, promised: "We got your back." By that, he meant you could watch Lambert's performance video there, boosting traffic to the site. Everybody wins!

On Tuesday's show, by the time Seacrest shut it and the singing got underway, more than five precious minutes had been lost to the airing of baby photos and other nonessentials. The photos were used because this was Songs From the Year You Were Born week. Only after the seventh Idolette performed were there any visible efforts to pick up the show's pace -- namely, the judges' critiques suddenly became very short -- but by then it was almost 58 minutes past the hour.

Then, if you clock the judges' comments Tuesday night -- we went back and did -- the judges seem to average 20 to 30 seconds of comments apiece per Idolette. This year's additional judge, times seven Idolettes before Lambert, starts to add up. As we found out Tuesday.

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