Whether you think Idol Gives Back is "a corporate shakedown" (PhillyBurbs blogs), or has caused the show to veer "wildly off brand" (WaPost OnTV blog), you can't deny it's a brilliant TV marketing move that will also raise awareness and money about poverty.
The show's other Simon, creator Simon Fuller (read a profile about him on BBC News), is no idiot. This is Season 6 after all, of the show the other networks refer to as "The Death Star." And although Idol continues to cream the Tuesday and Wednesday network competition, ratings have been sagging slightly compared to previous seasons.
However, if you think Fox was overjoyed to hear Fuller's idea to change things up a bit this season and add a charitable element...you don't know network executives. As TIME Magazine reported a few weeks ago, "when Simon Fuller...told Fox executives he wanted to give one week of his prime-time, never-fail, hit making show over to fund raising--to make it a sort of telethon--he knew what they were thinking, and it was a word you can't say on TV."
As the Time article explains, Idol Gives Back came about when British screenwriter/director and fund raiser Richard Curtis came up with the charity idea and pitched it to Fuller...who had been trying - and failing - to sell tone-deaf U.S. network execs on a telethon-type one-night show which he would produce. (You can read more about this in today's 'USA Today)
But the Fuller/Curtis plan to wrap a telethon-type event in the already established American Idol franchise was an offer Fox couldn't refuse. As Time reports, "Fuller's aim is much more ambitious than making Idol a fund-raising juggernaut. He wants to launch a whole new TV genre, using America's most popular show as his springboard. 'These things can be fantastically innovative and dynamic and not just ploddy old telethons,'" Fuller tells Time.
We'll find out tonight, when host Ryan Seacrest gives the voting/fund raising results of last night's show...and co-hosts tonight's two-hour 21st century telethon with - you knew it was going to happen - Bono as mentor.
If you cruise around the blogs today, there are people who are gushing about Idol Gives Back, like Jason at IdolStalker.com who writes "I really feel this is going to be an amazingly huge fund raising event and effort." Or the blogger at GiveMeMyRemote.co who says "Good job Idol - I like that you’re taking your world domination and using it for good rather than evil (and by evil I mean those cheesy Ford commercials)."
Then there are those cynics who don't believe Simon (Cowell, this time) could be moved by dying children in Africa. "Am I to believe Simon actually gave a crap about those African kids he is seen talking to in Idol Gives Back???? Yeah...sure," writes Michele H on her YahooTV blog.
Bloggers at RealityBlurred.com think it's terrific that Idol is giving back $5 million (as Seacrest said last night) to fight poverty, "but is not that much relative to how much cash the show is pulling in," which Fortune estimates to be some $30.5 million per week. "Nice, but not exactly bank-breaking" says RealityBlurred.
Those who expect Idol Gives Back to give its viewers an in depth understanding of poverty around the world have it all wrong. Last night's short snippets of Simon and Ryan in Africa, Ryan in Atlanta among the homeless, and videos of other hungry American children on a Navajo reservation and in Appalachia, were intended to inform, but not to preach or bore Idol's audience. For at its core, those millions of Idol viewers come from a generation with short attention spans, limited world views, and quick texting fingers.
Any information Idol can impart about poverty, AIDS, homelessness and the like is more than many of its viewers had before. And getting them to take action, even if it's part of their "voting" process, is itself a lesson in how to engage and become involved in both the political and social process.
It's straight out of the Bono book of humanitarian activism, dawg. Check it out.
When its one need
In the night
Its one love
We get to share it
It leaves you baby
If you don't care for it