This is the kind of stunt that happens when you lose Simon Cowell and need to maintain your water-cooler buzz.
Or, this could be the kind of genuine television moment you get when producers are truly remorseful for the "outrageous behavior" exhibited by its newest onscreen talent.
But which was it last night, when American Idol apologized for the wonder that is Steven Tyler at the top of the show?
Obviously—or on second thought, maybe not so obviously—it was a joke. Though as the saying goes, if you have to explain it…
As of this morning, at least, the world appears to have cried foul at the blatant headline grab (well, mission accomplished) and joke (though clearly not a particularly funny one, according to the reaction).
The real funny thing is, had the apology not been so hyped, it wouldn't have been met with the indignation that joined it last night. So how did this thing get so blown out of proportion?
Turns out, E!'s own Ryan Seacrest started the buzz by promoting the apology on his Twitter page and radio show yesterday morning, urging America to tune in and even humoring questions from his zoo cohorts about whether any disciplinary action had been taken by Fox or whether whatever Tyler did to warrant such an apology may also result in him losing his job.
Several media outlets bought in to the premise and began speculating about what the show may be apologizing for, with the consensus revolving around the appearance last week by the injured fiancée of one of the contestants, something some groups called exploitation. (That's what you call a PR backfire.)
But in the end, all Idol apologized for was one of Steven's now patented Tylerisms: in particular, the Aerosmith frontman's cheeky insinuation that one contestant's last name—Muck—rhymed with a certain other FCC-angering word.
Almost immediately, the Twitterverse felt duped and began slamming the attention play.
Producer Nigel Lythgoe did his best to defend the stunt, tweeting, "Wow, there is a huge lack of humor out there!! Hey you guys, don't take things too seriously, especially my shows."
And then, just to punctuate his point, he added: "Smile or 'Go **** a duck.' "
That's what we were waiting for. It's almost like Cowell never left.