Despite the protestations of TV critics, Fox's The Simple Life 3: Interns has followed its predecessor editions to become one of the biggest unscripted TV hits of the year. But would it be as successful without both Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie? The answer appears to be coming this fall.

In an interview with USA Today, Paris Hilton confirmed the longstanding rumor that Nicole Richie would not be part of the fourth edition of The Simple Life, which will film on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Instead, said Paris, the new co-star would be Paris' pal Kimberly Stewart, the daughter of rocker Rod Stewart and his ex-wife Alana.

In her comments to USA Today at Wednesday night's "Young Hot Hollywood Style Awards," Paris made it clear whom she thinks is the straw that stirs The Simple Life. Said Paris, "It's my show; I've had it three seasons, and I just want to freshen it up ó make it newer and funner." "Funner"?

Even though a spokesperson for Paris said in January that splitting up Paris and Nicole "would be like Lucy and Ethel splitting up," Paris confirmed her desire to change the show in a separate interview with E! that night. "You know, I've had three great seasons [on the Simple Life]," said Paris, who was accompanied to the awards by Kimberly Stewart. "I love the show." She then went on to say that she wanted to "bring new things in. Itís going to be a big surprise. And everyone is going to be very excited and happy about it."

One set of people who are unlikely to be "very excited and happy" about Paris' public statements are Fox and the show's producers, Bunim-Murray Productions. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the two entities issued a statement yesterday to address the controversy without either confirming or denying Paris' scoop (which, in Hollywood-speak, would generally be seen as a basic confirmation). The statement read: "We are currently discussing internally the creative direction of the next season of The Simple Life. We are huge fans of both Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie and look forward to solidifying our plans for the next installment of this fantastic franchise in the very near future."

BMP and Fox are reported have contract options with both Paris and Nicole for five seasons of the show, and they could legally force Paris to do Simple Life 4 without meeting her demands. However, Paris delayed filming of Simple Life 3 by pleading an overloaded schedule (however, rumors at the time were that she and Nicole had had a falling out, and she wanted Nicole gone), and she probably could delay Simple Life 4 even more if she failed to get her way.

A report on the syndicated show The Insider, for which Kimberly Stewart previously worked as a correspondent, said that producers would attempt to mollify Nicole Richie by giving her a new reality show of her own, a Newlyweds-styled effort focused on her upcoming wedding to Adam Goldstein, known professionally as DJ AM. Whether any network would be interested in such a show is not known.

Nicole and her publicist declined comment on her status on The Simple Life 4. But Paris hinted that Nicole might want out of the show because of her upcoming marriage: "She's engaged and she's working like a dog." Funny, it seems more true that she's being treated like a dog.

Paris also wanted to gush about her friendship with Kimberly, who bears a definite resemblance to her father Rod. "We've known each other since we were in our moms' tummies ... we've been doing fashion shows for charity since we were three-years-old. We've always been getting dressed up together our whole lives." Sounds a lot like what Paris used to say about Nicole, with the exception of the prenatal communications.

When asked by E! who the bigger troublemaker of the two is, Kimberly laughed and pointed at Paris. Replied Paris, "When you're with your friend you've known your whole life, you totally trust them. We just act like sisters ... we have fun."

If the co-star shift happens, The Simple Life 4 would not represent Kimberly's first bid to achieve the media profile of her co-star. Last fall, she discussed recording an album that would include her dad's 1970s hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Kimberly also made reality TV news when she received new breast implants and "donated" her used ones to The Osbournes son Jack.

Kimberly would also join her mom, Alana Hamilton Stewart, as a veteran of reality TV. Alana appears in Farrah Fawcett's new show Chasing Farrah, and she was one of the stars of (and primary villains on) the ABC Survivor clone I'm A Celebrity -- Get Me Out Of Here!.

Kimberly's dad was once rumored to be doing his own reality show for a fee of 25 million pounds from MTV -- a rumor which proved to be false because of Rod Stewart's belief that "private life is private." Evidently his ex-wife and his daughter disagree.