“The show will be back next season,” Simon Cowell said of The X Factor — which this season is clocking its smallest numbers yet — when asked by Deadline. Asked if he will be back as a judge on the show next season — it’s been widely speculated he’ll return to judging on the UK version — he responded, “I might have a different kind of role.” Cowell was on a conference call with reporters to talk about this season’s two finalists, who also were on the call. Cowell said he “was not necessarily saying” he wouldn’t be a judge on the show next season but rather that the show’s format is likely to change a lot. The singing competition has fumbled about half of its first-season audience (which in itself was only half as many viewers as Cowell had forecast for his franchise before its premiere). Going forward, Cowell said, X has “got to be more different next year than it was this year,” adding that he’s in “the middle of a presentation of what we think the show should look like and what the fans would like. And yes, my role could change.”
Among those changes is likely a truncation from two nights to one, Cowell said, which would emulate what ABC did this season with Dancing With the Stars. “Possibly, yeah — I won’t say which night,” Cowell said in response to the truncation question. (If ratings mean anything, in re which night, the show clocks a bigger crowd on Wednesday, its performance night). Carving X down to one night a week would make it cheaper to produce — it is not profitable this season, according to informed sources — though what would make it a lot cheaper is if Cowell did not return as one of the judges.
Singing competition series, Cowell said, started off as one-night-a-week propositions but became more like “watching a movie” as ratings-hungry networks asked producers to make them longer and longer — which, Cowell said, “I don’t think is necessarily a good thing.”
Cowell’s widely expected to make a return to the UK version of The X Factor, which also has its ratings challenges, in 2014, after signing a new three-year deal with ITV to keep that program and Britain’s Got Talent on the air until 2016. Last week, Cowell’s U.S. version of X got edged out by NBC’s The Sing Off in the demo. That’s not great news for Cowell as he waits to hear about a renewal. In its first two seasons, Fox announced a pickup in November, which it failed to do this season. But X’s numbers, while not great — in November, it hit a series low for a regular episode — are still better than some other shows on Fox’s primetime. In the demo, so far this season the competition series is trailing Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, Family Guy, Bones, Almost Human, The Simpsons, and Glee. In total viewers it trails Bones, Sleepy Hollow, and Almost Human, with an average of about 7.2 million.
Discussing the U.S. version’s ongoing problems, Cowell expressed frustration that his show “created the whole mentor thing,” but NBC’s The Voice got on the air first with its judge/mentors, leaving U.S. viewers thinking his show had copied NBC’s. Cowell did not note that the situation was created because he and Fox took so long to get X on the air. In between the time Fox announced it had snagged X in a bidding war and when the network finally got it on the air in September 2011, NBC managed to buy The Voice format, develop it for this country, and get it on the air — with five months to spare.
For next season, Cowell said he needs to make X look less like its competition, in part to attract the best talent. “They all have a choice now what they can audition for — us, America’s Got Talent, Idol, The Voice. We somehow have to convince them, ‘The X Factor is the best one for you’.”
To that end, Cowell said he did not want to bring back this season’s judge/mentor panel. Or, that may just be another ploy to keep people talking about the show until next season — both X Factor and American Idol have had great luck keeping themselves in the news during their long down times by gutting their judge panels and keeping fans and the press guessing who has made the new lineup. X Factor has changed its judge panel every season.