Reportedly the most expensive summer series in the history of the ABC network, its first episode, on July 18, 2006, scored the second-lowest audience ever for a premiere episode on a major U.S. broadcast network, with an estimated 3.08 million viewers – ahead of only the 1990 premiere of Glory Days on the then-fledgling FOX network. Subsequent episodes had even fewer viewers. The series was cancelled after two weeks and four episodes, with the final results undecided, on July 27, 2006. The show's website proclaimed "there are no plans for additional episodes".
CBC personality George Stroumboulopoulos, host of The Hour, hosted the U.S. series — his selection brought added attention from the Canadian media following the debate over the CBC's decision to air the series. The judges were songwriter Kara DioGuardi, industry veteran Mark Hudson, and former record executive Andre Harrell. The show's executive producer was Fear Factor producer Matt Kunitz.
In promotions leading up to the show's premiere, ABC called The One "the show FOX doesn't want you to see" or "where Idol has never gone", due to the fact the the contestants would always be competing, even when the stage isn't set, and grudges, rivalries, and breakdowns can develop. In fact, the viewers at home only chose who the bottom 3 are; the judges then saved one, and then the remaining contestants chose which one should go home.
In Canada, The One was promoted by CBC as the must-see event of the summer. Ads for The One ran for several weeks before the show premiered. The series was initially scheduled to air Tuesday nights from 9:30 to 11:00 p.m. ET/PT (performance), and Wednesday nights from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. (results), from July 18 to September 6. Prior to the premiere, performance episodes were expanded to two hours starting at 9:00 p.m. ET. At the last minute, the airing of the first results show was changed to 10:00 p.m. ET. A planned further change for the Tuesday episodes, to the 8:30 to 10:00 p.m. ET timeslot, became moot following the show's cancellation.
Contestants are listed in alphabetical order by last name, in format: name, age, hometown.
The next night's results episode fared even worse in the U.S. ratings, sinking to a 1.0 rating in the 18-49 demographic. The re-run of night 1's episode (which preceded the results show) plunged to an embarrassingly low 0.6 average in the vital demo ratings. The poor performance of the show helped ABC measure its lowest-rated night in the network's history (among 18-49s), finishing tied for sixth place. The series was ultimately cancelled after a second week of poor results.
According to CBC executive Kirstine Layfield, in terms of resources and money, The One "had the most backing from ABC than any summer show has ever had (sic)."
Canadian ratings have dipped as low as 150,000 – not necessarily out of step with the CBC's usual summer ratings, although much lower than the broadcaster's stated expectations for primetime audiences, in the one-million range.
The CBC initially insisted that despite the cancellation, a planned Canadian version may still go ahead, citing the success of the format in Quebec (Star Académie) and Britain (the BBC's Fame Academy). The network confirmed that the show will not air in fall 2006 – in fact, the show had never been given a fall timeslot – but the show was "still under development."
Critical response was limited but generally negative. The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Richmond called the series "clearly derivative and opportunistic" with the judges' comments "awkward and forced. The HDTV broadcast of the premiere episode was plagued by technical problems, including poorly mixed sound on the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. "Applause" prompts meant for the studio audience were clearly audible in the broadcast. The band mix was better in the next (elimination) episode, but the vocalists were too far down in the mix.
It is believed the U.S. simulcast was a condition of the CBC's rights to produce an English-Canadian version during the 2006-07 season. The network has not explicitly confirmed this, but has said it wants to build an audience for the Canadian version and would rather air both than have a Canadian version on CBC competing with the American series on a rival Canadian network. Both editions of The One are part of a wider strategy by the network to increase its viewership, which has steadily decreased since funding cutbacks to the public broadcaster in the early 1990s.
Because of ABC's scheduling, and because most episodes of The One aired live, under the original schedule The National was moved to 11:00 p.m. (from 10:00 p.m.) when The One aired in the Eastern Time Zone, and to 9:00 p.m. (prior to The One) in the Atlantic Time Zone, with all other regions maintaining The National at 10:00. The two shows were only expected to conflict on Tuesday nights, although the timeslot change for the first Wednesday results show caused another conflict.
In Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, which is on Central Time, The One concluded by The National's regular airtime. In other western provinces, The One aired, on tape delay, prior to its airing on the "local" ABC affiliate, leaving The National untouched.
The airing of the program on CBC is seen as controversial not only because of the time shifting, but because it appears to contradict the corporation's mission as a public broadcaster that explains Canada to Canadians, which led to CBC Television dropping all primetime U.S. network series in the mid-1990s. Lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting described the move as "shocking and surprising" and says the decision also contradicts CBC president Robert Rabinovitch's fall 2005 claim that "we don't do reality television". Actors' union ACTRA called the decision a "sell-out". And in a recent acceptance speech (read by his wife) for an award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation, former CBC anchor Knowlton Nash said, "If the CBC really wants reality TV, let people get the reality of what's happening in the world by turning on The National at 10 p.m. every night," construed by most as an indictment of the One decision.
For his part, while current anchor Peter Mansbridge told the Toronto Star he is not happy with the move, he says this scenario is no worse than the newscast's other time changes during, for instance, the NHL Playoffs. He also expressed optimism that that a Canadian version could be a "good lead-in" to The National, which is currently in third place behind CTV National News and Global National in the Canadian network newscast ratings.
The CBC later issued a lengthy response to the criticism, including the announcement that "Canadians will still be able to watch The National at its regularly scheduled times (9 [ET; 10 p.m. AT] & 10 p.m. [ET]) on Newsworld" on the affected nights. Normally the all-news channel airs The National at 9:00 ET but documentaries at 10:00 ET.
Following the cancellation, The National was no longer affected by The One, meaning that its normal schedule resumed on July 31. However, the controversy of why CBC Television aired a "copycat", and ultimately low-rated, foreign series continued, at least in cultural circles.
Immediately after the series ended, the CBC said it was still deciding whether to proceed with a Canadian version. With the fall 2006 announcement of a different CBC series in the same vein, Triple Sensation, and later in 2008, a Canadian version of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, it now seems unlikely a Canadian edition of The One will be produced.