A lot is riding on American Idol at Fox, which usually turns from also-ran to a ratings leader overnight when the reality juggernaut hits the air. The pressure is not as great this season and the network has the Super Bowl. But the scrutiny has never been greater because of the judge overhaul in the wake of original star Simon Cowell’s departure that played out in the blogosphere over the summer. Overall, new judge Steven Tyler is getting good grades for his debut as is new (old) showrunner Nigel Lythgoe for focusing more on the good singers and less on the sideshows. As for the ratings, the question was “How much down will the show return without Simon?” We just got that answered. In the fast nationals, the two-hour American Idol Season 10 premiere drew 26.1 million viewers and a 9.7 rating/26 share among adults 18-49. That was down 13% in viewers and 18% in the 18-49 demo from last year’s premiere and the reality veteran’s lowest-rated season opener since the show’s inauspicious debut in summer 2002. (historical data below) It also represents the show’s biggest ratings drop between seasons. The numbers are expected to get adjusted up in the finals, so the demo decline is projected to be 16%. (The decline is bigger in the demo than in the total viewership because the Idol audience skewed older this year. Hey, one of the judges, Steven Tyler, is 62.) Even …
For the past year, since Simon Cowell announced last January that he would leave American Idol to focus on bringing The X Factor to the U.S., there has been relentless speculation whether the veteran reality show would survive without its signature star. As Idol launched its 10th season tonight with new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler and new Wednesday-Thursday airing pattern, we’re finally starting to get answers. Here is an excerpt from TVLine’s Idol expert Michael Slezak’s first take on the premiere. (Check TVLine in the morning for his recap):
“Admittedly, night one of Idol 10.0 wasn’t its most thrilling installment of all-time ever, but the show’s increased emphasis on truly talented singers — and its decision not to belabor audition packages from the talentless, the deluded, and the attention-craving — made for a zippy, feel-good 120 minutes. And while the season premiere lacked Simon Cowell’s addictively salty bitchery, it benefited greatly from Steven Tyler’s stream-of-righteous critiques. Yeah, sometimes it takes a beat to translate the hoots and howls and adjectives emanating from the Aerosmith frontman’s giant mouth, but he’s already exhibiting solid instincts when faced with young, unpolished talent. His “I wasn’t feelin’ the pizazz” feedback to big-voiced-but-soulless 15-year-old Kenize Palmer was spot on, even if he eventually caved and said “yes” to giving her a Golden Ticket.”
And here is what American Idol creator/executive …
From Ray Richmond, who has been contributing to Deadline Hollywood’s TCA coverage:
The hot new (read: Simon Cowell-less) American Idol got rolled out by Fox on Tuesday morning at the TCA confab in Pasadena, with new judges J-Lo and Steven Tyler and new/old showrunner Nigel Lythgoe but without a man named Simon, the one named Cowell, arguably the nasty voice that has long stirred this top-rated drink for a phenomenon that enters its 10th season on Jan. 19.
First question of the day: Does anyone take it personally that everyone presumes there is a Hummer-size hole in the show to fill due to the looming absence of Simon’s bracing venom? “No,” insisted Randy Jackson, the only returning judge and now the undeniable veteran. “We don’t take it personally. Of course we love him and miss him, but what we’ve added with these new superstars is a lot. We’ve got a rock legend in Steven and a triple-threat in J-Lo.” This marked the first time in a public forum that someone has expressed “love” for Cowell.
For his part, exec producer Lythgoe expressed little concern over “Idol” continuing on its merry Number One way. “It’s an entirely new cast, and an entirely new show, but you need to evolve after you’ve been on the air for a decade, so it’s time,” Lythgoe said. “Simon’s leaving allows us to be creative and to shake things up.” Agreed exec producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz: “It was important …
JENNIFER LOPEZ IS NEW ‘IDOL’ JUDGE! Closed Deal This Week; Replaces Ellen Who Wanted Out of Contract: “It’s Not Been Fun”
EXCLUSIVE UPDATE 6:30 PM: We’ve just learned the backstory of how Ellen DeGeneres bowed out of American Idol and who will be the new judge taking her place. It’s Jennifer Lopez, whose singing and acting career has been on the skids after her recent movie failed at the box office in the spring and she was dropped by her record company Sony Music Epic Records this past winter. We hear her manager Benny Medina (whom she once fired) orchestrated the meeting with the American Idol producers a month ago, and negotiations have been ongoing ever since. We’ve learned a deal was closed earlier this week under the utmost secrecy. Today’s news came shortly after Nigel Lythgoe returned to Idol as an executive producer. He has vowed to shake up the show’s team of judges in the wake of the departure of Simon Cowell, publicly stating that he always thought a panel of three and not 4 made the most sense.
Still to be decided is who will replace Simon Cowell. Everyone associated with the show wants Elton John, but we hear he’s asking for too much money and has too many touring commitments he can’t get out of. (Denials That Justin Or Elton Judging ‘Idol’) 2ND UPDATE: Tonight, unconfirmed reports say Idol has offered Cowell’s judge seat to Steven Tyler. 3RD UPDATE: And another unconfirmed report claimed judge Kara DioGuardi has been fired to bring the panel count down to just 3, not 4.
As for Ellen Degeneres, we’re told she wanted off the show two months ago and complained that Idol producers “couldn’t control Cowell”, one insider tells us. Least of all Cecile Frot-Coutaz, the CEO of FremantleMedia North America. “Cecile is doing X Factor with Simon, so she’s in his back pocket.” DeGeneres and her reps went in to to see Fox Broadcasting’s Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice and Alternative TV President Mike Darnell and asked to be let out of the year left on her contract. “She’s not comfortable. She’s not happy. It’s not been fun,” Fox was told. But Rice and Darnell responded that, with Cowell leaving, “We can’t let you out now because it would be bad for our franchise. Give us a chance to figure out who we could get.” In the end, all the show’s producers – Fox, Fremantle, and 19 Entertainment – worked it out. “Peter Rice was awesome,” an insider tells us. “Ellen is thrilled and relieved.” We’ve learned that serious conversations took place between Idol and Jessica Simpson to replace Ellen. But once Jennifer Lopez was locked in this week, the DeGeneres announcement went out.
2ND UPDATE: Deadline has learned that representatives for both Justin Timberlake and Elton John are denying there’s anything real behind that published rumor that both musicians are in talks to replace Simon Cowell as a permanent judge on American Idol. A Justin insider says the report is “just silly” because Timberlake has no time for a gig like this. That’s because his film career is really taking off after acting turns in David Fincher’s Oscar-touted The Social Network as well as Bad Teacher and Friends with Benefits. And he’s been offered the lead in the Andrew Niccols-directed I’m Mortal for New Regency and Fox. Elton John’s name surfaced the moment Cowell announced his exit and there have been talks since then. Plus, he’s got the album “Union” with Leon Russell. The singer’s UK publicist Gary Farrow told me that “Elton’s got commitments right up until next year. As we stand at the moment, Elton has no plans to do that show.” Which is why he gave Deadline London editor Tim Adler this blunt quote: “It’s absolute rubbish. This story’s three months old. There’s more chance of me fucking you than Elton being on U.S. Idol.”
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 …
Fox’s reality guru Mike Darnell is closing in on a 20-year anniversary at the network. Darnell has inked a new three-year contract to continue as president of alternative programming. That will bring his tenure at Fox to a whooping 19 years. (He joined Fox in 1994). Darnell, who is now shepherding American Idol‘s transition to a post-Simon Cowell era, appears to have renewed his deal quietly several weeks ago, and the extension is keeping things status quo for the reality master. At his previous renegotiation with Fox in 2007, Darnell was upped to president, becoming the the first alternative department head to hold a president title. He was also formally given creative control over Fox’s unscripted development and authority to greenlight pilots, presentations and specials. At the time, he remained at Fox after fielding offers from seven suitors, including NBC, Endemol USnd RDF USA, to join them as a producer.