'Idol' is better at making stars than hiring them
OTHER FEATURES CRITIC'S CHOICE SERIES NOTES LATE NIGHT BY KEVIN McDONOUGH,
"American Idol" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) enters its Hollywood round. This is when the competition moves beyond the good-to-awful initial auditions and when possible favorites emerge.
Much of the discussion surrounding "Idol" has centered on its declining ratings. This is to be expected from any series that has been around for more than a decade. And for all of the quibbles, "Idol" still reached nearly 16 million viewers last Wednesday.
The move to add big stars Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban as judges has not helped. At its height, "Idol" was proof of the adage that television does not need stars; it makes them. Nobody had heard of Ryan Seacrest, Randy Jackson or Simon Cowell when the show began. Paula Abdul, the only familiar face, was seen as a kind of genial has-been. But by the second season, they had all become household names as large as Kelly Clarkson, the first "Idol" winner.
This has always been true in television. Its earliest household names, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball, were at best modest stars before they had hit shows. Television made them superstars, as it did seemingly wooden hosts Ed Sullivan and Lawrence Welk, the Ryan Seacrests of their era.
In contrast, Frank Sinatra, an enormous recording talent, had a handful of failed television variety hours, as did Judy Garland.
In a perverse way, TV viewers distrust big-name stars on their small screens: If Frank Sinatra's so big, what's he doing on TV? The same could be said of recent "Idol" judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. Did "Idol" need them, or vice versa?
"Idol" shows its flop sweat every time it concentrates on the built-in freak show factor of Carey and Minaj, or indulging in a "reunion" with Tyler.
People still watch "Idol" for moments like Micah Johnson's recent audition. Clearly saddled with a speech impediment, the contestant explained how his throat had been injured in tonsil surgery. But that handicap vanished when he opened his mouth to sing. Corny? You bet. But that's the kind of feel-good schmaltz viewers have come to expect from "Idol," a moment of uplift that offered a nice distraction from a show top-heavy with forced celebrity.
·The new spy series "The Americans" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA) continues to blend fact and fiction in its 1981 setting. Tonight: Philip and Elizabeth must plant a bug in the office of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
The show debuted to a large audience for FX last Wednesday, but could not attract as many viewers as "Moonshiners" (9 p.m. and 10 p.m., Discovery, TV-14), the most popular cable series of the night.
Sue's science project requires a change in demeanor on "The Middle" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
A recently released con wants to make up for lost time on "Arrow" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
"Nature" (8 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, channels 33 and 12) concludes its three-part salute to nature filmmaker David Attenborough.
A death row prisoner (Mike Tyson) may shed light on a predator on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
Manny vies for a part in the school musical on "Modern Family" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
"NOVA" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, channels 33 and 12) looks at the ancient technology required to build chariots for Egypt's pharaohs.
Missing in action on "CSI" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
Severide finds a kindred spirit on "Chicago Fire" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
Deacon's blues on "Nashville" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
Roger Moore, Barbara Bach and Curt Jurgens star in the 1977 James Bond thriller "The Spy Who Loved Me" (8 p.m., Reelz).
Diplomatic baby-sitting on "Person of Interest" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... Me time for Alex on "Whitney" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14) ... Intimations of mortality on "Guys With Kids" (8:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) ... Ill-timed advice on "The Neighbors" (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
Murder between the covers on "Criminal Minds" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... Having a go at a golem on "Supernatural" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... A change of schools on "Suburgatory" (9:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
Ed Whitacre is scheduled on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (11 p.m., Comedy Central) ... Rooney Mara, Jeff Ross and Dirty Projectors appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS) ... Chris Franjola, Sarah Colonna and Kurt Braunohler are booked on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!) ... Lawrence Wright sits down on "The Colbert Report" (11:30 p.m., Comedy Central).
Joel McHale and Ken Licklider appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" (11:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Tim McGraw on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Ewan McGregor, Julianne Hough and Gary Clark Jr. appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC).
Whoopi Goldberg, Tavi Gevinson, Tommy Mottola and Kurt Metzger visit "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (12:35 a.m., NBC) ... Craig Ferguson hosts Emmy Rossum and Jon Ronson on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., CBS).