Nellie Andreeva

He was the first major member of the American idol team to depart the show. Now former executive producer Nigel Lythgoe is finalizing a deal to return for the upcoming 10th season as the top-rated reality series is looking to shake off a lackluster Season 9 and to prepare for its first season without Simon Cowell on the judging panel. Lythgoe is expected to serve as an executive producer alongside Ken Warwick, who has been running Idol for the past 2 years, creator Simon Fuller and Cecile Frot-Coutaz. Lythgoe’s surprise exit from the show in the summer of 2008 was followed by the departure of Paula Abdul last summer over a salary dispute and the recent exit of Cowell, who will be launching X Factor on Fox in fall 2011.

Lythgoe, who helped build Idol into a reality powerhouse, has stayed in the Idol family with a deal at 19 Entertainment, which co-produces Idol with FremantleMedia. He also serves as executive producer/judge on 19′s Fox series So You Think You Can Dance. Because of his long-time Idol experience and his Cowell-like role on SYTYCD as an acerbic British judge, there has been some speculation that CAA-repped Lythgoe would be considered for Cowell’s spot but I hear his deal is for his EP services only. As for the high-profile search for Cowell’s replacement, it is still going on, and the network may not be able to lock in the new judge by the time Fox brass meet TV critics and reporters at TCA on Aug. 2. After exploding in its summer 2002 debut, Idol grew for several years until starting to decline in the 2006-07 season. It continues to be the highest-rated show on TV.

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