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.
So NBC is
replacing what could be considered the basis for its entire
show—Michael Scott as a dumb boss—whereas Fox is really just
reconfiguring a small part of its series—a few members of its judging
panel. This is where Fox has been particularly genius. No matter who
they get, the main dynamic of Idol will still be in place: singers
singing and judges judging. But they've managed an unreal amount of
press surrounding the casting of the new judges. It's been talked about
nearly every day, with each new week bringing a new crop of A-list
names that are rumored for the job.
Huge stars like Justin Timberlake, Elton John, and now Lopez have been
in the news next to American Idol, creating an invaluable amount of
buzz leading into the show's tenth season. Regardless of who ends up
sitting in those judges chairs, the numbers for the show's premiere are
going to be huge. Fox has turned a minor show re-tooling into fodder
for what might be its highest-rated season yet.
On the other
hand, unlike Idol, The Office is hardly a ratings juggernaut. Steve
Carell is the show's most visible star, but he still only manages to
bring in around 7 million viewers each week. And whereas Idol's
gotten significant mileage out of press prognostication over Cowell's
replacement, coverage of Carell's exit has been primarily focused on
the decision and whether the show should end—not so much on who would
replace him. It was never thought that Idol would end when Cowell left;
it's so highly rated, of course it would continue on. But The Office is
struggling with viewers, making Carell's last season a seemingly
perfect time to end the series. There have been leaks of actors who are
being courted by NBC to replace him—most recently Rhys Darby and Danny McBride—but little is being said about it beyond "why bother."