The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Will Jennifer Lopez breathe life into a sinking 'American Idol'?

July 30, 2010 | 10:59 am

Jennifer_lopez There's no other way to look at it. With Ellen DeGeneres leaving and Jennifer Lopez reportedly signing on as her replacement, "American Idol" has indisputably jumped the shark. The show was already ailing last year, with even long-time fans beginning to tune out at record rates--the show's ratings were down roughly 9%. But the departure of Simon Cowell, the show's true ringmaster, was a huge loss. His acerbic, often hilariously arch personality made him the perfect foil for the show's other, less-than-charismatic talent judges.

Now Cowell is gone. And so is DeGeneres, who pretty much everyone involved, including even Ellen, judging from her parting remarks, realized was a poor fit for the program. Bringing in Lopez at a time when her own career is in the doldrums is hardly the rich breath of fresh of air that the show needs. The sad truth is that once the core fans start to lose their strong emotional identification with a TV show, a process already clearly underway at "Idol" last season, the show's less committed followers begin to melt away, forming new ties with shows that have a cadre of even more crazed followers. (MTV's "Jersey Shore," anyone?)

If Lopez had a team of writers who could script her some wonderfully irreverent material, she might be able to hold her own as a talent judge. I've always thought she was great TV material, but as the costar of a brash sit-com, not as another lukewarm enabler for "Idol's" amateur cavalcade of talent. "American Idol" isn't going to suddenly collapse in the ratings. It's just going to die a death of a thousand cuts, as fans slowly but surely realize there are other shows that deserve their bottomless faith and devotion.  

Photo: Jennifer Lopez at an AIDS benefit at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Credit: Joel Ryan / Associated Press