I never got to see American Idol before I came to Germany, so I only know DSDS, but I can imagine a big part of the success, as svaihingen pointed out, can be credited to the judges. I compare it to the German and American versions of "Who wants to be a millionaire?" I watched that show rather often in the US when it was running, but found it pretty tiresome. It only lasted a couple seasons, I think, and I attribute that to the host, Regis Philbin, and the way they handled the questions. Before logging in the contestant's answer, they would always draw it out suspensefully and Regis would ask, "Is that your FINAL answer?" It got to the point of ridiculousness--at least I remember making fun of it--and I think in the end that was why it failed. The German version, on the other hand, with Günther Jauch, is much more entertaining. He's got a much better personality for it and they don't draw out the questions unnecessarily. My relatives in the US can't understand why we watch the show here because they think of the boring "Is that your FINAL answer?" version.
This habit of drawing things out unnecessarily long seems to be a popular German phenomenon--the shows that do this just can't be taken seriously. See DSDS, Germany's Next TopModel, The Biggest Loser does it too. Stretches such a little amount of entertainment out to fill a 2-hour slot. Simply awful. I have never seen the American shows do this. I've seen Tyra Banks' model show here a couple times (dubbed) and they cut right to the chase at the end. I would imagine the same is the case with American Idol. They don't draw out the decision for an unbearable half hour (or more). The one who didn't get enough votes is named, and that's that. Am I right? (Like I said, I haven't seen the American version.)
Other than the judge factor and boredom factor, I have a feeling that the comment Die Amerikaner wollen Gewinner sehen, die deutschen Loser und beide Sender geben ihnen was sie wollen?
is right on.
edit: Oh, I see that in fact there still is a syndicated version of "Who wants to be a millionaire?" running in the US, with a changed format.The nighttime version initially drew in up to 30 million viewers a day three times a week, an unheard-of number in modern network television. In the 1999–2000 season, it averaged #1 in the ratings against all other television shows. The next season (2000–2001), three nights out of the five weekly episodes placed in the top 10. However, the show's ratings began to fall during the 2000–2001 season, and by the start of the 2001–2002 season, the ratings were only a fraction of what they had been one year before. ABC's reliance on Millionaire's popularity led to the network's falling quickly from its former spot as the nation's most-watched network.
The current syndicated version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire began airing on September 16, 2002, and is hosted by Meredith Vieira.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Wants_to_Be_...