20 Years After American Idol Premiered, A Look Back At Some Of The Biggest Hits To Air After It


On June 11, 2002, FOX premiered the first season of American Idol. In a season that lasted 25 episodes over the course of just under three months, it eventually crowned Kelly Clarkson its winner. The innovative, interactive format of the show combined with the entertainment value of its judges and Clarkson’s immediate ascent into superstardom helped make American Idol into a cultural phenomenon. With that, FOX had a cash cow on its hands throughout the 2000s and a loss leader when it ended its run in the mid-2010s, and used its record-breaking TV ratings to launch as many shows as they could. Of course, ABC would go on to revive American Idol after just one year off the air; this article focuses on when the show was at the peak of its popularity, often pulling in tens of millions of viewers nightly. 

SUCCESS: GLEE (2019-2015)

FOX tried airing dramas, comedies, and reality shows after American Idol, but very few were actually tied into music. Glee is an exception, focusing on a fictional high school glee club. It premiered after the Season 8 performance finale of American Idol, getting a 3.9 A18-49 Live + Same Day rating out of Idol’s 9.0. While not a particularly encouraging start, Glee rated in the low-mid 3s for almost the entirety of the following fall, gaining a solid half a ratings point or more from its lead-in. FOX put it on hiatus and tried it behind Idol again that spring, and it shot up to the high 4s/low 5s with Idol usually in the 6s. Encouraged by the performance, FOX renewed Glee and had it lead off Tuesday nights for Season 2, only getting the Idol lead-in for its finale. The result was a season that managed to actually be up 11% year-to-year. 

Unfortunately, Glee is now remembered for being a flameout series and was plagued with a variety of problems in its post-Idol days. However, it’s undeniable that the American Idol lead-in gave it a successful launch in Season 1, which it held onto in Season 2.

SUCCESS: HOUSE (2004-2012)

House is a medical drama that premiered on November 16, 2004 to a 2.7 A18-49 Live + Same Day rating. That’s just 66% of the league average in 2004-05, yet it grew from its lead-in’s 2.6. For comparison, if a show premiered with 66% of the league average this past season, we would be looking at a 0.34 A18-49 premiere. House would stay in the mid-high 2s for the remainder of the fall, even as its lead-in fell to as low as a 1.1. Seeing potential, FOX kept it in that Tuesday at 9 time slot in the winter and spring. Suddenly, it was airing behind 10s, 11s, 12s, and 13s. House went from a 2.5 for its fall finale, to a 5.0 for its first post-Idol episode (38% retention) , to a 7.7 for its season finale (62% retention). 

This allowed House to go into its second fall primarily in the 5s, even without Idol around to boost it. When Idol did come along, it took off, beating its Season 1 finale more often than not, and culminating in a 10.2 A18-49 Season 2 finale (77% retention). 

House peaked in its third season, where it yet again was paired up with American Idol. It was mostly in the 6s in the fall, shot up to the 8s and 9s and even as high as 11.2 after Idol, before falling back down to the 6s for its finale without the Idol lead-in. At this point, House is taking advantage of Idol’s lead-in better than ever, and it’s still a huge show without Idol, but there are indications it could be time to move on from the American Idol-House duo. 

In Season 4, it only got to air after Idol twice, yet still only lost 11% of its A18-49 audience for the year, and regularly did 7s out of its 3s lead-in. This is not something one would expect out of the show that loitered in the mid-high 2s for its first batch of episodes; we can thank American Idol for giving House the exposure it needed to thrive and ultimately become a show that aired for 8 seasons, all rating above the league average. 

SUCCESS: 24 (2001-2010; 2014)

Being a serialized drama, 24 was a tough sell on broadcast television, especially in the days before DVR and streaming. It didn’t do particularly well in its first season either. Its 4.23 A18-49 average was slightly below average, but it had strong retention from its average lead-in of a 4.1. By renewing it, FOX showed they had big plans for the series. 

24 was up 35% year-to-year in its second season in A18-49. It was already gaining momentum in the fall, but airing after Idol’s 9s, 10s, 11s, and 12s in the spring allowed 24 to stay in the 5s and 6s. FOX would go on to do the same scheduling for its third season, but the serialized nature meant it wasn’t able to capitalize quite as well as something like House would later go on to do. In fact, except for the final few weeks, 24 rated pretty similarly after Idol as it did with a lead-in a fraction of the size. This was simply a sign of a show that had been launched well with an established audience, something it did not have before it got to air after Idol. 

Ultimately, despite what the Season 1 ratings suggested, 24 lasted for 8 seasons, ending its run in 2010. Of those eight seasons, the first was the lowest-rated compared to the overall league average. It would then have a 12-episode revival in 2014, branded as 24: Live Another Day, followed by 12 episodes of spinoff series 24: Legacy in 2017. 

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