Published January 13, 2015
For starters, Paula Abdul isn't going anywhere.
"Why would we get rid of Paula?" wonders Cecile Frot-Coutaz matter-of-factly, when questioned about possibly nixing the wacky "American Idol" judge now infamous for — among other things — critiquing both of Jason Castro's songs after he'd sung only one.
All the chatter about Abdul's slip-up during Tuesday's "Idol" performance show doesn't faze the FremantleMedia North America CEO and "Idol" executive producer. Nor did the subsequent speculation about the singing competition's authenticity.
And really, why should it?
"I love that everyone was talking about it," she told The Associated Press over lunch in her office two days after the show. "It was so unexpected. It was something that took up 2 seconds of airtime. You'd think there was no other news on television."
To Abdul's credit, the incident happened following an on-the-fly format switch.
"We thought it would be a good opportunity for the judges to give the contestants a good kick in the butt and tell them they were going to have to kick it up a notch for the second song," said Frot-Coutaz. "That decision happened during the live broadcast. It was at the very last minute, so Paula wasn't planning on doing any judging."
In the moment, Abdul claimed she skipped ahead to her notes on another contestant. It was later revealed the gaffe happened because she had scrawled some impressions on Castro when — gasp! — she saw his dress rehearsal.
This practice, revealed many times over in seasons past but not scrutinized until now, is hardly grounds for termination. To Frot-Coutaz, it's not even cause for blame.
"It's not her fault," she said.
Frot-Coutaz — who oversees development, production and business operations of "Idol" and several other U.S. series, including NBC's "America's Got Talent" and the CW's "Farmer Wants a Wife" — said Abdul is "great for the show" and called her a "great team player."
It's just the latest in the long line of "Idol" follies that have popped up since the show debuted on Fox in 2002 and went on to become the most-watched show on TV. Frot-Coutaz brushes off presumptions that "Idol" is manipulated.
Instead, she points to the fact that the show is very big — and very live — as the cause for all brouhaha.
While controversy isn't new for the franchise, slipping ratings have been. Viewership for the Tuesday performance show featuring Abdul's blunder were the lowest for "Idol" in five years. On Wednesday, over 22 million viewers tuned in to watch Brooke White eliminated from the competition, according to Nielsen Media Research.
"Nobody's alarmed by the ratings dip," said Frot-Coutaz. "We're still 7 million viewers ahead of the second-biggest show. And let's face it. TV has taken a huge decline this year. All the networks are down by quite a bit. I think the writers strike really hurt. A lot of viewers haven't come back. You can't just look at an isolation in the environment."
Addressing rumors about potential changes for season eight, Frot-Coutaz said adjustments may be made to evolve the show, but insisted there are no plans to rework or remove the audition episodes that have started each season. And — besides Abdul — there's also no plan to replace Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell or Ryan Seacrest.
"They're a great cast," said Frot-Coutaz. "They work very well together. If it's working, don't fix it."
One thing Frot-Coutaz is considering reworking: "Idol Gives Back." She was uncertain about how much the second "Idol" charity event would raise "when a lot of people can't afford to pay their mortgages," although she was "very pleased and surprised" with the $67 million in donations.
Despite that generous figure, she's not sure the segue will return next year.
"I would like to take a break, personally," said Frot-Coutaz. "In the U.K., they do 'Comic Relief' every two years. I think that's the right amount of time. I don't think you should go back to the country and ask them to donate every single year. I think it's too much. Every two years to me feels right."
Not so for "Idol" itself. Frot-Coutaz doesn't see an end in sight. She points to the longevity of another FremantleMedia-owned show.
"If we're smart about it, there's no reason why 'Idol' wouldn't keep going," said Frot-Coutaz. "Just look at 'Price is Right.' It's been on for over 35 years."