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'American Idol' and those (maddening!) overruns into 'Glee': How and why they happen

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american-idolImage Credit: Michael Becker / FoxAny fan of Glee – especially those who own DVRs – can certainly attest to how American Idol hasn’t done the greatest job of finishing on time of late. For the last three weeks, Idol has run beyond its scheduled end time – which has pushed back the start of Glee and prevented DVRs from capturing the dramedy’s thrilling conclusions (last night, it was part of a performance by Kristin Chenoweth). Gripes one EW.com poster named John K: “I’m thinking about shunning American Idol for good now – bad enough they have the worst season in their 9 years, but they continue to have no idea how to run and manage a show to end on time. I have two DVRs and I tape 2 different things after Glee, so adding time to cover for AI’s mismanagement is not an option.” Adds another named SaneN85,” I’m with you here. I have 1 dual DVR, so it’s a pain when AI goes over. I record both Parenthood and V after Glee and Lost, so adding time is NOT an option. Why can’t that ridiculous show figure out how to end on time?”

To be fair, Fox has tried to warn viewers about impending delays on Idol. On the night of Glee’s April 13 premiere, for example, Fox aired promos saying the dramedy would begin at the unusual time of 9:30 p.m.. And on April 21, host Ryan Seacrest alerted viewers that the typically bloated Idol Gives Back edition would run late (it ended at 10:24 p.m.). Still, that’s done little to assuage suspicions that Idol may be running long on purpose. “They’ve been getting off for seven years on time and all of a sudden they can’t?” says one exec at a competing network. “It doesn’t make sense.” There’s some thought that Fox may be trying to shove more commercials into Idol, though the network insists that it’s airing no more than usual.

Over-runs are not an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence when you’re dealing with a live show. The network’s not commenting, but a source close to Idol said that while it’s always the producers’ aim to end the show on time, unpredictable elements wreak havoc on the show’s clock (not to mention your DVRs) year after year. That said, these time slot overruns can do wonders for the network’s ratings. Adding more minutes to an already highly-rated show will improve the network’s overall performance for the night — to say nothing of how it encourages viewers to stay on Fox to watch Glee rather than change channels to catch the already-in-progress V on ABC or Parenthood on NBC. On April 20, Idol ran over three minutes into Glee, which finished the night as the second most-watched show.

Ironically, last night’s two-minute overrun by Idol didn’t help Glee as much. Though the dramedy once again ranked as the No. 2 most-watched show of the night, Glee was down 6 percent in viewers – 12.2 million from last week’s 12.98 million – and 2 percent among adults 18-49 (despite the Idol overrun, Glee is still measured separately by Nielsen). Nevertheless, its performance was strong enough to help rank it as this season’s No. 1 new scripted show – ahead of Modern Family (for now).