When American Idol debuted in the summer of 2002, the notion that viewers would tune in on two consecutive nights, the second night featuring the reveal of which contestant got eliminated, seemed risky. Would audiences be invested enough to spend time finding out information that could ultimately be condensed into a two minute reveal? Yes, it turns out they would. Ratings for the results show were close to that of the performance episodes, and before long every performance competition reality program had built in a results show into their airing pattern.
Flash forward ten years and So You Think You Can Dance has already cut out their weekly results show, and now ABC has announced that starting this fall Dancing with the Stars will air just once a week, incorporating both performances and results. Are reality television results shows about to become a thing of the past?
The drama surrounding the eliminations in that first season of American Idol made for a relatively tight 30 minute show. But as networks are wont to do, Fox got greedy — they saw an opportunity to expand the footprint of their giant hit show on the network schedule, and eventually the results show grew to 60 minutes in length. (Remember, performance shows were just an hour back in that first season, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that they expanded permanently to two hours.) The hour-long results show became the standard, and, before long, even unproven shows were launching with one.
Along with the added length came more promotional opportunities and lots of padding. (This season on American Idol they don’t get anywhere near announcing the results until the last 5-10 minutes of the show.) Viewer frustration with this padding has increased over time, but many viewers still tune in, as they are invested in the competition and want to see how things will play out. And, for many longtime viewers, it’s simply habit. But that number is diminishing — The Voice, Dancing with the Stars, The X Factor and American Idol all see markedly lower numbers for their results shows than they do for their performance episodes, and the disparity between the two nights is higher than it’s been in years past.
During the early years of American Idol, if you weren’t able to watch the results when they aired you had to rely on someone you knew alerting you to the results, or wait until the internet published a recap of the events. However, with the advance prominence of social networking in our lives, plus the advent of youtube, it’s become much less essential to actually watch the show live, if at all. You can find out the results in real time simply by looking at your Twitter feed, or by reading a recap that appears sometimes within minutes of the show finishing. And if you must see how the eliminated contestant took the news, odds are you’ll be able to find the footage on youtube. Sure, if you’re a diehard fan of the show, or you love cheesy group performances, or you’re curious to see which musician is plugging their new album, you probably still find it essential to tune in. (Full disclosure — I definitely still watch Idol‘s results shows religiously). But it’s no longer a necessity.
Now, there are other factors that went into the decision to remove the results shows from So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars –both shows have experienced major ratings declines for both their performance and results shows, and it had become more difficult to justify devoting three hours of weekly programming to a show that wasn’t bringing in the viewers. This is particularly the case for Dancing with the Stars, which has a large overall audience but often finishes fourth in its timeslot in the Adults 18-49 category. Three hours is 17% of ABC’s primetime hours — a not insubstantial number, particularly for a show that’s not performing in the ratings.
In the case of The Voice, American Idol and The X Factor, the results shows still post high enough numbers, relative to other shows on their network’s schedules, that they are not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. But NBC and Fox might be wise to consider bringing them back down to 30 minutes — if the viewer didn’t feel like they were being manipulated, or that their time was being wasted, they might be more likely to make it a priority to tune in, instead of simply looking online for the results. If they’re not careful, they, too, could find themselves with a trash heap full of discarded reality show third hours.
What do you think? Do you want results shows to be cut down, or eliminated all together? Let me know.
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