Aside from all the talk about a lackluster crop of singers and tired formatting, I've got one quick recommendation for producers on how to improve this year's edition of American Idol.
End the episodes on time.
Over the last two weeks, viewers have seen just one edition of the popular unscripted singing competition end when it was supposed to — with this past Tuesday's episode running a couple of minutes over and April 21's blockbuster Idol Gives Back fundraiser landing a whopping 24 minutes long.
Why should anyone care when Idol's messy, seat-of-the-pants shows conclude? Three letters: DVR.
As a time-challenged TV critic, I notice this immediately. There is a serious logjam of popular shows on Tuesdays — from NBC's Biggest Loser and CBS's two NCIS shows to ABC's Dancing with the Stars and Lost and Fox's Idol.
Saving some shows with a digital video recorder becomes the only way to keep up — something Idol turns into a nightmare with its disregard for watching the clock.
Never mind missing important Idol moments; overruns also back up the network's overall schedule, pushing back fan favorite Glee just far enough that DVRed episodes may be missing the last (and, often the best!) musical number.
On Tuesday, gleeks saw Kristin Chenoweth's soaring take on Home from The Wiz clipped; the week before, the big closing number for the show's Madonna homage, Like a Prayer, was cut off badly enough that the network re-aired the entire episode the following Friday.
Rumors blame the arrogance of Idol producers, accused of refusing to rein in the show. Fox publicists e-mailed this statement: "While the producers always aim to end the show on time, American Idol is a live performance show and as with all live programming, there are unpredictable elements that affect running time."
Given the punctuality of other live shows — notably Dancing with the Stars — some fans fear it is a deliberate effort to discourage people from recording the program at all. After all, one benefit of watching a recording is skipping the endless commercials and product placement stuff.
This isn't new for TV networks. Already, some shows have staggered start times, beginning one or two minutes after the hour, to make it tough for fans to record shows on other networks. And some cable networks even vary the lengths and placement of breaks to prod viewers into paying a little more attention as they fast forward through recorded shows.
But a report released last week by the Nielsen Co. indicates 34 percent of TV homes now have DVRs. Which means Idol, already losing popular judge Simon Cowell and its razor-sharp band after this season ends, might not want to tick off fans anymore than they must.
I have a feeling, sometime soon, they're going to need a little audience goodwill.