Is America Ready For “The Next Great American Band”?

noah | October 17, 2007 5:00 am

The Next Great American Band, the American Idol spinoff that is scouring the country for, erm, the next great American band (or at least one that will be able to pass off as many styles as your everyday wedding band), debuts Friday. If you forgot, or if you skipped over the ads for it while watching the ALCS this week, you’re probably not alone, and that likelihood is making a conspiracy theorist over at MSNBC wonder if the show’s being set up to become one of those “Internet-only” affairs before its first undoubtedly hilarious audition episode even airs.

Start with the timeslot: Fridays at 8 p.m., where the competition isn’t just the other TV shows, but evening plans as well.

“The Next Great American Band” will face decent competition in its time slot, as it’s up against CBS’ “Ghost Whisperer,” NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” and ABC’s “20/20” — or whatever rerun ABC chooses to run in that slot. None of those shows are anywhere close to being in the top 20 of the Nielsens.

On the positive side, there’s lots of room for this show to make an impact, since all it needs to do is get people who ordinarily aren’t watching television on Friday nights to flip on the tube and give it a chance. A negative spin is that people tend not to plan their Friday nights around television in the first place. If the people in targeted demographics plan to start their weekend by seeing a band live and in person instead of watching a bunch of groups playing on TV, it’s not going to generate big numbers.

It’s possible that being on earlier rather than later will help, as fans of live music can theoretically watch the show and then go out to a club afterward. But it’s more likely that interested viewers will set up their DVRs and watch later, a practice that doesn’t factor into immediate Nielsen rating numbers and may have less of an impact with advertisers.

Moreover, one of the appeals of “Idol” is that it’s a great show to talk about at the office. Singers take the stage on a Tuesday, and the Wednesday coffee break is all about who did well and who was terrible. Wednesday night is the results show, and Thursday is usually filled with outrage over America’s choice. It encourages discussion, which increases the viewer investment in the show.

It will be hard for “The Next Great American Band” to ride that same dynamic because it’s more than 48 hours between that and the start of the work week. It’s never going to own the Monday morning conversation the way “Idol” sometimes does after it airs.

Also, the show’s format itself suffers from the same weakness as many of its rivals — it’s so derivative of “Idol” that it looks like a poor cousin of the original. Hey, look, it’s the guy with the accent as the lead judge! Just like on “Idol.” And “So You Think You Can Dance.” And “Dancing With the Stars.” And “America’s Got Talent.” What would an American reality show be without a foreigner being the bad cop?

And he didn’t even mention that the show hasn’t warranted its own mini-site yet. (Scissor Sisters in the top friends? Are they really trying to find “The Next Great American Band That Isn’t Popular In America But Is Huge In Blighty”?) It did feel like this show was a bit of a stretch of the Idol concept from the first time I saw a promo; just the idea of having bands made up of different moving parts, instead of single singers, go through the motions of different styles and genres seemed like it would be tough to pull off without–not to repeat this point, but it’s the motif that keeps cropping up in my head–going the wedding-band route. Still, I will be recapping it every Monday, because what if the ska revival is cemented by a bunch of Bosstones revivalists winning the crown, and the heart of those Americans who actually stay home on Friday nights? The possibility of missing out on that moment just fills my heart with too much sorrow.

The Next Great American Band [Official MySpace] ‘American Band’ has to drum up own success [MSNBC]