Peter Fincham, ITV’s director of TV, said this weekend that Simon Cowell will not be one of the main judges on the British X Factor. ITV is still holding out that Cowell will appear in the live shows toward the end of this fall’s series -– even if it is just by video link. How desperate is that? Fincham has told the Sunday Mirror: “We are talking to him about ways he can have an on-screen presence later in the show. He will not be a weekly judge.”

Given that Cowell occupies a space somewhere between David Beckham and God in the UK national consciousness, this is a huge blow to ITV. Cowell and the broadcaster have been wrangling for weeks over how Cowell could do both the UK and U.S. versions at the same time. The UK X Factor begins in August, while the U.S. Fox version starts in September. The UK auditions had already been moved back to May to accommodate Cowell. ITV suggested providing a private jet to zoom Cowell back and forth across the pond. Cowell said no. Then ITV suggested moving production of the Fox X Factor to New York instead. “Uh uh,” said Cowell, who instead proposed shifting the UK show to the beginning of January. But ITV couldn’t face losing the estimated £22 million ($36 million) profit it makes from the show, split with Cowell’s production company Syco and co-producer Talkback Thames. Said ITV, “We are talking about ways in which he can have an on-screen presence later in the series and he will continue to be an enormous presence backstage. We have known for some time that Simon’s on-screen presence would be less this year, and that is something we are completely comfortable with.”

That’s not what I’ve heard. Privately, I’m told ITV bosses are furious about how Cowell has treated the broadcaster that made him a star. “The feeling is that he’ll make so much from the U.S. show that he doesn’t care about the UK version at all anymore,” says one insider. Last October, Cowell signed a three-year deal with ITV tying him in to the channel. However, the deal –- estimated to be worth £100 million -– was just for producing and not appearing. “His presenting deal is separate to the production deal. That’s what’s causing the headache. They have no contractual deal to ensure he’s in UK X Factor, which is a cock-up of monumental proportions,” says my source. So, who is going to replace Cowell as the UK show’s weekly judge? Ozzy Osbourne is the latest name to be thrown into the ring, despite having slammed the show in the past for killing music. Girl singer Frankie Sandford from Brit pop band The Saturdays has been talked about to replace Cheryl Cole, who both Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Cowell let slip would definitely be a U.S. judge, though they later retracted their statements. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Cowell is so insistent on having Cole on the U.S. version. She’s a virtual unknown in the U.S. I mean, as Jennifer Lopez said recently, “‘She is a singer, right?”

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