New 'American Idol' Producers Vow to 'Freshen Things Up' (Q&A)
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This story first appeared in the Aug. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When MTV veterans Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager left New York in 2007 to start the production company Den of Thieves, they went full-on Hollywood -- producing such glitzy events as the VH1 Divas special and the CMT Music Awards as well as reality shows like The T.O. Show, in addition to seven years of the Video Music Awards. While they are heading back to their roots -- and to Brooklyn's Barclays Center for the first time -- for the VMAs on Aug. 25, they'll then dive into their biggest gig yet: American Idol. The duo will fill the shoes of longtime exec producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, who departed in June after season 12 saw ratings free-fall by more than 30 percent.
Are big changes in store for Idol? "If anything, it's trying to make the right changes … to freshen things up," says Prager. "The challenge is finding what can be tweaked a little but leaving the things that work well in place."
The pair won't elaborate, but the judge's panel likely will have at least two familiar faces, with Keith Urban confirmed to return and Jennifer Lopez negotiating to rejoin after a year off. Prager adds that they're sticking to what made Idol a hit: "Chemistry and the desire to find and make that next great superstar."
The two are qualified to deal with stars and big production numbers, having shepherded elaborate performances for the VMAs -- be it Lady Gaga's Jo Calderone drag piece or anything by Kanye West. But as the once-dominant Idol begins auditions in August for its 13th season -- its first without departed Fox reality chief Mike Darnell -- there's a sense of urgency to right the ship.
To that end, many new faces will be seen around Stage 36 at CBS Television City, where Idol has taped since its 2002 debut. Swedish TV exec Per Blankens, who worked on his country's Idol, has been brought in to exec produce, while David Hill, a veteran of Fox Sports, will oversee Idol and The X Factor. (Blankens and Hill were spotted having lunch with hitmaker Dr. Luke on Aug. 7; his name has come up as a judge candidate, though sources say he'll likely be a mentor.) There are more cooks in the Idol kitchen: production partner FremantleMedia, format owner CORE Media Group, creator Simon Fuller, and so on.
Idol has been averse to change, but many associated with the show say now is the time to experiment, putting pressure on the Den of Thieves duo to make it happen. Are they doing yoga or meditation to prepare for the challenge? Laughs Ignjatovic: "Do you know any good people?"
Read more of THR's interview with Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager in the Q&A below:
The Hollywood Reporter: American Idol made the initial approach, what do you think drew them to Den of Thieves?
Jesse Ignjatovic: I think it was our work in the live space and specifically the live music performance space. With the VMAs, each year we're trying to change it up. That's been our mark -- that we constantly try to think outside of the box and present things in a different way. So perhaps they were interested in us because we could bring something: good ideas, bad ideas, but still ideas that are maybe a bit different than the past few years.