“American Idol” viewers who worship at their altar via TiVo or a TiVo-like device were horrified to discover that the two-hour results show Wednesday night ran 10 minutes long, thus preventing them from seeing the giant girl win over the guy who does sound effects. In other words, they missed the whole POINT of the show.
Fox has responded by issuing a statement of apology — although it’s worth noting that the apology stops short of actually accepting responsibility for the mistake:
We’re sorry that DVR users may have missed the conclusion of the American Idol broadcast. It was always our intention to bring the show in on time, but just as with any live sports, variety, awards or entertainment event, there is no way to absolutely guarantee that the show will end exactly on the hour. Fox and the producers apologize to those viewers who were inconvenienced.
Comparing the “American Idol” finale to a sports or awards show sounds reasonable, until you realize that sports and awards shows have a lot of unpredictable variables: overtimes, time-outs, and the unscripted acceptance speeches. Everything about the “AI” finale, on the other hand, was completely scripted. The only ad-libbing was during the three “Golden Idol” award segments, and the “winners” probably didn’t take up any more time than the producers guessed they would.
Everything else was planned and had a firm, predictable running time. The length of each song isn’t going to differ from rehearsal to performance by more than a few seconds. The producers do a show like this every week; they know how long to allow for applause, ovations, and so forth. In other words, the show had no unforeseeable surprises. Adding up the elements beforehand (commercials, songs, etc.), there’s no way you’d have come up with “120 minutes on the nose.”
It makes sense that they’d plan a little more than they actually had room for. It’s better to be too long than to be too short, at least when it comes to TV broadcasting. So what should they have done? The obvious thing would be to do what “Saturday Night Live,” your local news, and every other live program does all the time: Cut something. You’re running long? It’s 9:45 and you’ve only reached the song that was supposed to happen at 9:40? Cut something.
Yeah, yeah, it’s so sad to rehearse a number and then have to cancel it, or to have a surprise guest not appear after all, or to tell the band and the singer to do two verses instead of three. Boo hoo. Like I said, live programs do it all the time. Pretty much every time, in fact.
By not taking measures to ensure the climax of its broadcast occurred on time, Fox was basically saying, “This show is too important to follow the regular rules. This is ‘AMERICAN IDOL,’ for crying out loud!” The insincere apology that refuses to acknowledge the judgment error just smells like more hubris.