The phenomenon of music-based television shows, which have dominated the ratings for more than a decade, seems by nearly every measure to be over or in steep decline.
“They flooded the market,” said Simon Cowell, perhaps the individual most responsible for turning amateur singers into superstars, with his roles on “American Idol,” “The X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent.” “There have just been a ton of shows, and something has simply gone awry.”
As broadcast network executives descend upon Manhattan this week to hawk their new programming wares to advertisers in the springtime ritual known as the upfronts, shows filled with music have gone achingly flat.
It is hardly the first time television has burned out a genre through mass imitation and overexposure. Networks rode westerns into the ground. They exhausted the audience with singers trying variety shows. At one point, almost every night had a newsmagazine. And, most famously, ABC ran the sprockets off its game show hit “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” with four episodes a week at its height, leading to a plunge in ratings and its relegation into syndication.
The music genre has been both longer lasting and more potent than most of these examples — until now.
The show with the starkest reversal of fortune is “American Idol,” a show once so overpowering that rival networks gave up trying to compete with it. Now “Idol,” which spawned the careers of Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson, collects ratings that are even worse than many of the woeful shows it once left in its wake.
Last week, the onetime blockbuster slid to a new all-time low for one of its performance shows, with only about seven million viewers (one season it averaged more than 30 million) and a puny 1.7 rating in the category its network, Fox, sells to advertisers — viewers between the ages of 18 and 49.
“Idol” once averaged a 12.6 in that group; as recently as 2011 it averaged an 8.6. Even this season, “Idol” started out with a 4.7 rating in that category. And the median age of viewers of the show has grayed drastically: growing from 32 in its first year to 52 this season.