Fox has announced that it is changing course and dropping The Simple Life, deciding that its broadcast schedule no longer has room to air a fourth edition of the Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie reality comedy series.

Patting itself on the back, Fox positioned The Simple Life 4 as a victim of the network's unusually solid start to the new television season. According to the network, the fact that its new fall slate has launched to mostly solid-if-unspectacular ratings (led by returning second year drama House, which like Survivor did for CSI five years ago, suddenly became a winter hit due gaining last season's American Idol 4 as its lead-in) has simply left it with little space for the show.

"At Fox we have a unique midseason situation," the network explained in a statement released late Wednesday. "In January we have to accommodate 2 1/2 hours of new programming with 24 and American Idol. We also have completed episodes of both scripted and unscripted series in the wings. We're enjoying solid performances by our returning shows and we've also already ordered full seasons of Prison Break, Bones and The War at Home. Collectively, we did not see a place for The Simple Life on our schedule this season."

While the phrasing of the statement was no doubt intended to tout the network's surprising start, it also made something else clear -- that Fox is apparently as surprised as everyone else that viewers have shown interest in some of its new fall series and that for the first time in several seasons, it doesn't look like it will need American Idol to ride to the network's midseason rescue and salvage yet another disastrous fall launch.

Although Paris and Nicole had a well-publicized falling out earlier this year (with Paris going as far as to publicly proclaim that Kimberly Stewart would replace Nicole on the show), Fox had repeatedly made it clear that it picked up both of the socialite's contract options and planned to air a fourth installment of The Simple Life this season. "Both have been picked up, both will be ready for work, and we'll work it out," Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori had told reporters attending July's Television Critics Association press tour.

According to Daily Variety, Fox felt the earliest it could have aired The Simple Life 4 was in Summer 2006, and given that the new season (set to begin production next month) was to feature the women learning to become "good wives" by serving as "surrogate mothers," it felt the show might seem "outdated" by then. After all, The Simple Life 4's concept was intended to tie into the fact that both Paris and Nicole had become engaged earlier this year -- a situation that had already suddenly changed with last week's announcement that Paris had broken off her engagement to Greek shipping heir Paris Latsis.

However, Variety sources stressed that neither the girls' feuding or Paris' decision to call off her engagement were responsible for Fox's decision to drop the series -- and the show's studio and production companies each issued their own statements indicating that they expect another broadcast network to quickly pick up the series.

"We're disappointed that The Simple Life will not continue on Fox where it has performed so well, but we believe this series starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie is still a dynamic and valuable franchise," stated Twentieth Century Fox Television's announcement. "We hope to be able to announce a new network partner in the coming days."

"We have a hit series with 18 to 49 year olds starring two of the most written about women in the world," Bunim-Murray Productions founder Jon Murray stated in the company's own statement. "We're very excited about the creative plans for the next group of episodes, and are confident this situation will be remedied quickly."

According to numerous media outlets, both NBC and The WB have both shown strong interest in airing the series as part of their midseason schedules (and based on the poor performance of its initial fall schedule, NBC -- which already aired Paris' mother Kathy's I Want To Be A Hilton series this past summer -- would certainly appear to have plenty of room to do so.)

Should the series go forward, the fact that Paris is no longer engaged is not expected to effect the fourth season's marriage theme. "She has been very outspoken about her desire to be a young bride... so the idea of her learning what it's like to be married works either way," 20th Century Fox spokesman Chris Alexander told Reuters.

Nor are the producers worried about Paris and Nicole's personal relationship. "The girls have been feuding for months. That's not a surprise to anyone," Alexander added. "We've prepared for that. We've built that reality into our production plan."