Nigel Lythgoe talks ‘SYTYCD’ guest judges, finale changes and President Obama

09.16.09 8 years ago

Michael Williams/FOX

On Wednesday (Sept. 16) morning, FOX made the big announcement that “Hairspray” director Adam Shankman was going to take a place as resident judge on the sixth season of “So You Think You Can Dance,” which made us wonder about the fate of veteran “SYTYCD” guest judges including Debbie Allen, Mandy Moore, Tyce Diorio, Mia Michaels, Tabitha & Napoleon and Lil C.

Fortunately and conveniently, FOX had already set up a conference call with series judge/co-creator/exec-producer Nigel Lythgoe, so I made a point to ask about how a permanent three-judge panel would impact future guest judges.

“It’s always difficult to put them in, because I want them choreographing and the minute they choreography, they’re not allowed to be a judge…” Lythgoe explains. “We’ll still have an open chair. I’d still like Paula Abdul to pop in. I’d still like guest judges to pop in when they can. Jennifer Lopez has said how much she loves the program. I’d love her to come in and sit down for a week. We tried it with Ellen [DeGeneres] and it was very successful. I just don’t want four judges every week. So it’s when available, when possible, they will judge.”

That hypothetical fourth chair will be open to dance-capable A-listers and favorite choreographers alike. Normally, this wouldn’t necessarily seem like a problem, except that dating back to his days on “American Idol,” Lythgoe has always been outspokenly critical about going to four judges.

“I always say that and I truly mean it,” Lythgoe acknowledges. “But even on ‘Dance,’ we sometimes have six and seven judges, but it’s normally in a place where I can edit and keep everything tight. The only reason I like that many judges is it just goes on and it waffles. I think at least with ‘Dance,’ people have got something categoric to say, a criticism of the dancer that they see and want to point out, so it’s normally it’s very quick and there’s not a lot of waffling.”

The sixth installment of “So You Think You Can Dance” premiered last week, just over a month after Jeanine Mason was crowned America’s Favorite Dancer. After inhabiting summer real estate for five successful summers, Lythgoe admits that moving to fall wasn’t necessarily his choice.

“It wasn’t our decision,” Lythgoe tells reporters. “We were asked by FOX if we would swap. I guess their reasoning is they wanted to lead into ‘Glee.’ They felt that both programs were complimentary to each other. I would have thought they would have also wanted to free up their summer for other, experimental shows. We’ve got a solid core audience, or I believe we have, and transferring that into fall would be good enough. My fear, of course, is that we’re going to be ping-ponging around a schedule that’s based on baseball and we may get lost in there. All we can do is turn out the best shows we can do and rely on an audience that follows us around the schedule and keep our fingers crossed.”

With an accelerated season premiere and a clear out-date at the end of fall, plus the aforementioned baseball interruption, “So You Think You Can Dance” will have a tightened run, which will lead to some accommodations being made. One thing Lythgoe teased for reporters was a six-person finale, pitting the top three women against the top three men, rather than the traditional Final Four format.

In the early going, though, “So You Think You Can Dance” will just look like “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Early returns were mixed.

“The 18-49 demographic was pretty good,” Lythgoe says of the Sept. 9 premiere. “Very strong. We won our slot. Very happy with that. I think the next fews are going to be really difficult to read. I thought the figures were a little soft last week, but with President Obama speaking, it sort of throws the entire thing out anyway. You don’t know where are. If you look at the figures for ‘Wipeout’ and ‘America’s Got Talent,’ they were very much down on what they have been. It’s a difficult week to judge.”

Lythgoe continues, “I don’t want to say anything for five or six week. We just ping-pong around too much for me. This week is going to be, I would have thought, an extremely strong week for NBC — ‘Biggest Loser,’ ‘Jay Leno,’ ‘Got Talent’ final — so I think we’re going to suffer this week. We’ll just have to see. I suppose with FOX opting out of the Obama speech, I was expecting it to be a little higher, if I’m being totally frank. But who knows?”

Ever the showman, Lythgoe has a half-jesting solution for at least one possible “SYTYCD” ratings problem.

“Maybe we should get President Obama to come on the show,” he cracks. “He’s already giving opinions on television, so it might be a good idea if he comes on and judges on ‘So You Think You Can Dance.'”

That scenario would make it extra difficult for FOX to preempt the President.

“So You Think You Can Dance” airs tonight at 8 p.m. on FOX.

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