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December 12, 2008

'Idol' format changes planned

Judges_set_10508_0049_2 Fox is readying to announce some "American Idol" format changes.

The tweaks have been rumored online this week thanks to a memo leaked to a fan site. The network will officially reveal the plans Monday and hold a news conference with executive producer Ken Warwick.

The changes include:

-- Fewer audition episodes and more Hollywood-round episodes. The shift increases the show's emphasis on talented performers and shies further away from the crash-and-burn spectacle of less-talented attention seekers. The memo noted the aim was to feature "fewer bad singers and more 'aspirational' singers."

-- To further emphasize the focus on the most talented singers, the semifinalist rounds will feature the top 36 contestants instead of the usual top 24.

-- Adding some unpredictability, the "wild card" round will return (which gives eliminated contestants a chance to come back into the competition for one of the top finalist spots).

-- The network will not air an "Idol Gives Back" charity telecast next year, but does plan to hold the event in the show’s ninth season. Moving forward, "Gives Back" will become an every-other-year event.

Earlier this year Fox announced the addition of a fourth judge (Kara DioGuardi) and the departure of an executive producer (Nigel Lythgoe). The network hopes the changes will stem the show's ratings downtrend. The six-year-old series has withstood broadcast TV's overall ratings erosion better than most, yet nonetheless has seen audience erosion over the last couple seasons.

The new format changes may be less dramatic than what some fans imagined when Fox executives suggested they were going to shake up the eighth season, but the plans reflect what Mark Burnett says whenever somebody asks him about making major changes on "Survivor." He says there are endless minor ways to add variation to his show, but the veteran hit's essential format was lightning in a bottle and should be left undisturbed. "Idol" is the same way. One can/should tweak the format regularly to keep things fresh, but it's wise to only change the ornaments, not the tree.

UPDATE: 'Idol' changes announced


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