Report: Simon Cowell may be leaving 'American Idol,' show may move to Thursdays
By Reality TV World staff, 11/21/2005
Survivor host Jeff Probst apparently isn't the only well known reality TV personality who may be leaving his long-running reality series after its next edition. According to The New York Times, American Idol's upcoming fifth edition might also mark Simon Cowell's last season as one of the show's judges.
According to the report, Cowell is unhappy that as part of a three-season contract extension he signed before American Idol 3 in 2003, he will not have the right to sign Idol 5's eventual winner and runner-up to his Sony BMG record label -- a right that he's had during the reality show's previous seasons. "Simon is not interested in making a star for another label," one of Cowell's close associates told The Times.
Although Cowell willingly gave away American Idol 5's signing rights as part of his previous contract, he is reportedly now seeking to have them included in what the paper terms a "delicate and hugely expensive renegotiation" that would include an extension for additional seasons. But although Fox is offering Cowell the rights to Idol 5's finalists, Cowell reportedly still has "enormous leverage" due to the success of The X-Factor, a new Cowell-created British reality music competition series that has replaced Pop Idol (the show that spawned American Idol) as the most popular show on British television.
Like Idol, The X-Factor features three judges -- one of which is Cowell -- and begins with open auditions, but unlike Idol, X-Factor has no age limit and is open to contestants 16-year-old or older. After X-Factor's initial Idol-like open auditions, 120 finalists compete in a two-day "boot camp," with each judge assigned to one of three contest categories -- solo performers ages 16-24, solo singers age 25 or older, and group acts. At the end of the boot camp, only five acts from each category advance. The remaining finalists then visit the home of their judge who -- with the help of additional experts -- eliminates another two acts in each category. After that, the nine remaining finalists compete weekly, with one finalist departing every week. Since each judge also doubles as a "coach" to some of the finalists, the judge of the winning performer or group is also considered to be a "winner." Last season, one of Cowell's finalists won the competition. A second season is currently airing in Britain.
Given X-Factor's British popularity, American networks (including ABC and NBC) have reportedly begun expressing interest in bringing the show to the United States, and Cowell is said to be using the threat of leaving Idol and starring in an American X-Factor series as Idol leverage.
Complicating matters further is that X-Factor itself is also the subject of disagreement. Last year, Idol creator Simon Fuller and his 19 Entertainment company suedX-Factor producers Fremantle Media (19's Idol production partner) and Simco and Syco (Cowell's production company) in Britain, allegedly that X-Factor -- which Fuller and 19 Entertainment have no role in -- is a rip-off of the Idol format that Fuller originally created. The lawsuit alleges copyright infringement and breach of contract, with Fuller claiming as many as 25 similarities between the programs, including everything from the stage set-up, music, logos, and lighting to the way the judges are seated and contestants lined up for the audition process. Fremantle Media and Cowell have denied the allegations, stating that "The X Factor is a different format to Pop Idol." While all parties have recently remained quiet about the suit, Cowell had gone even further when he first commented on it, calling the allegations "totally and utterly ridiculous."
Although The Times claims that "no one expected the case to come to trial," barring a last-minute settlement, Monday was set to be the lawsuit's first court date. According to the BBC, 19's breach of contract allegation centers around a claim that a number of X Factor's production team also worked on Pop Idol (which ended its second season in December 2003, about nine months before X-Factor premiered) and signed contracts that restricted them from working on "rival shows," however no information on the length of the contract's alleged non-compete period was disclosed.
Hoping to both protect American Idol from a new threat and retain Cowell for future Idol editions, The Times says that Fox has offered Cowell a multi-million dollar fee that would prevent the X-Factor format from being sold to an American network. The proposal would "grant Fox first access to the show in the future," but Fox reportedly would never move forward with an X-Factor production as long as Idol remained on the air. The report did not address what role Fremantle Media would play in such an agreement.
The X Factor represented Cowell's second attempt to create his own series. His first, the Cupid reality dating series that aired on CBS in Summer 2003, failed to draw viewers but resulted in one of the reality dating genre's longest lasting (but still, at last report, unmarried) couples.
While The Times report cites Cowell's ongoing unresolved status as a reason why Fox has yet to announce a date for American Idol 5's January premiere, the newspaper also cites a second reason -- that Fox is considering moving Idol out of its familiar Tuesday/Wednesday broadcast schedule and into a Wednesday/Thursday schedule that would see the network attempt to attack CBS' dominant Survivor/CSI/Without A Trace lineup and capture a portion of the extremely lucrative Thursday night commercial advertising market. Although one Fox executive told the paper that such a move would be "somewhat unlikely," Fox is reportedly still pondering the move (which would also possibly involve expanding Idol's current 30-minute results show to a full hour.)