Anticipating an avalanche of American Idol-related questions, Fox Broadcasting’s entertainment chairman Peter Rice made an opening statement at the top of the network’s executive session. “The only thing I an tell you with absolute certainty is there are no signed deals with anyone on either side of the camera who wasn’t on the show last year,” he said, referring to judges as well as returning executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. Rice did confirm that Ellen DeGeneres met with him at the beginning of June. “We talked about the season and her feelings about the season, the idea that she wasn’t comfortable and that it was not a good fit for her,” he said. “I tried to persuade her that it would be different in the future, but we ultimately came to an agreement. We were going to begin looking for new judges anyway, because Simon was leaving, so as that was going to play out over the summer, we came to an agreement to go to her and say: we can’t replace you, or we can move on without you. [DeGeneres is in the middle of a 2-year deal with Idol.] That’s where we got to last week. We felt confident that we could come up with a panel that didn’t include Ellen as a judge, and at the same time we knew we were coming here on Monday. We felt it was disingenuous to sit here and talk about Ellen being on Idol when we knew that wouldn’t be the case.”
The rest of the executive session resembled a ping-pong match, with reporters trying different angles to ask questions about Idol and Rice and Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly quickly deflecting them. They refused to comment on the future of current judges Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi. Rice indicated that deals with the new judges are in advanced stages and an announcement will be made before the Idol auditions before the judges begin in mid-September. The plan is to make one announcement with the entire new panel, Reilly said after the session. He said he does expect Idol to remain the top-rated show on TV next season, as Idol has “an awful lot of wiggle room” in terms of ratings advantage over the rest of the pack.
Reilly and Rice also commented on the decision to hold the new Steven Spielberg/Peter Chernin adventure drama Terra Nova until next fall, with a May preview. Reilly said the reasons stemmed mostly from the scope of the project, set 85 million years ago, which requires extensive post-production as well as pre-production. He said the show is still in the process of locking up a filming location, with possibilities raging from Louisiana to Hawaii to Australia, as producers are looking for a place that would most closely stand-in for pre-historic Earth. Also, having a jump on a completed pilot loaded with all special effects months before the official series launch would help better sell the show to advertisers, Rice said.
Reilly also noted after the session that the network continues committed to dramedy The Good Guys for fall. In May, Fox ordered additional episodes from the show for fall before its summer premiere, and it hasn’t cut back the order despite low ratings so far.
During the session, Reilly said the network “is taking a beat” in late-night after canceling The Wanda Sykes Show and not making a deal with Conan O’Brien. “This season we really want to stay focused on prime time, but late-night is never off the table and we will revisit it when we find the right piece of talent.”
Reilly also was asked to address the departure from ABC of Stephen McPherson, who has been a close friend of his for the past 30 years. He admitted the news was “upsetting” to him. “All I can speak to is the depth of his character,” Reilly said. “On a personal basis, he’s a loyal and good friend, and I think people in the community know that and can speak to that. As a professional, he is not a guy who is afraid to have the courage of his convictions, and that’s resulted in some inspired programming and has made him a successful executive. It will continue to serve him well as he goes forward… I don’t know what his professional plans are but, if they entail any producing, the door will be open to him at Fox.”
Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline Hollywood’ TCA coverage.