What 'The Office' Can Learn From 'American Idol'


NBC, Jemal Countess/Getty Images

After being considered an all but sure-thing to replace Ellen DeGeneres as a judge on the upcoming season of American Idol, a new report says that Jennifer Lopez is no longer in the running for the job. The source says that the deal fell through due to her demands, and so the high-profile search for the show's new judges continues.

This isn't the only major casting search going on this summer. With Steve Carell set to leave The Office at the end of next season, NBC is putting feelers out for an actor to fill the Dunder-Mifflin job opening.

But the latest twist in the "who will place Simon and Ellen" saga only highlights the how different TV's two biggest talent searches have been—and what The Office can learn from the higher-rated show.

American Idol is the country's Number One series. Last season's finale averaged 24.2 million viewers—the lowest number since the show's first season, but still good enough to top the weekly ratings. That low-point came at the end of a much-maligned season in which many critics argued that the reality series was beginning to show its age. When Cowell announced his departure, some wondered whether Idol could survive. But his exit, and the search for his replacement, may be the best thing that could've happened to the nine-year-old series.

At its core, American Idol is a singing competition, with a rotating cast of stars each season: the Kelly Clarksons and Justin Gaurinis, the Reubens and Clays, the Lee Dewyzes and Crystal Bowersoxes. The Simon-Paula-Randy-Kara-Ellen crazy train is really just a sideshow supporting the main act—the singers. Changing out one or two judges doesn't deter talented vocalists and musicians from auditioning for the show. They turned up last year, despite Paula Abdul's departure, and 24.2 million viewers showed up each week too. There would be no reason to think that because Simon Cowell or Ellen DeGeneres won't be critiquing the contestants that the contestants won't be just as compelling, or that viewers would give up on the show altogether.

On the other hand, Steve Carell is the star of The Office. It's almost unfathomable to fans and critics that the show could continue without the antics of Carell's Michael Scott driving the plot—and the comedy—each week. The series has fleshed out some of TV's most beloved supporting players, particularly with the romance of Jim and Pam or the absurdity that is Dwight, but the general consensus is that a show centered on any of those characters would be far too grating and one-note. Since NBC has decided, as of this point, not to end The Office when its biggest stars leaves, the network is now not just looking for a new actor, but a new leading character for the show.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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