NEW YORK -- "American Idol," for all its success, is not above tinkering -- especially after last year's revolving door of celebrity mentors and Sanjaya Malakar's improbable run.
Not TOO much tinkering, though. Why mess with a trusty formula?
The Fox ratings superpower returned for its seventh season Tuesday, and will doubtless dominate January through May as it did last year and the year before that.
But "Idol" has reached a plateau in the ratings, down only 1 percent from 2006 (30.7 million average viewers) to 2007 (30.4 million).
Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe acknowledged that the show suffered last year when finalists failed to top the excitement from previous seasons; on the other hand, he said producers erred by giving too much air time to famous mentors like Jennifer Lopez rather than delving deep into contestants' back stories to foster a stronger connection with viewers.
This time around, the show will redirect attention to the finalists and bring back alums such as Katherine McPhee and season-two winner Ruben Studdard during results shows, Lythgoe said. There will be a new set to spice up a tried-and-true format.
"The most important thing is the show has got to look better," Simon Cowell said. "It's got to be more fun as a show, and if it is, I think more people will watch."