At the end of the finale of Fox's American Idol in May, acid-tongued judge Simon Cowell discussed his possible departure from the show. Was it merely a negotiating ploy, or was he really burning out from the demands of Idol, its British version Pop Idol, and his new CBS show Cupid? Now we know -- it was merely a negotiating ploy.

E! Online reports that Simon has inked a new deal with Fox that commits him to judge American Idol for the next three years, until the end of the 2005-06 season. In return, not only is Simon getting more money, but Fox will help him set up his own production company, simcow ltd. Fox will get "first-look" options on the next three new shows from simcow. The deal does not affect Cupid, which Simon co-produces under the banner of Cupid Productions, Inc.

In addition, Simon is spending part of the summer back in the U.K., where he continues to judge Pop Idol. Apparently the "commitment" demanded by Idol, about which Simon complained during the finale, doesn't seem so problematic when one is sufficiently compensated.

The future of the other two Idol judges, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, is still unknown. Like Simon, Paula is developing her own TV show, although she has expressed her desire to return. However, neither Paula nor Randy is likely to merit the type of deal that Simon was given.

Simon's drawing power may, in part, account for the disappointing ratings being turned in by this summer's Idol spin-off American Juniors on Fox. Juniors is drawing less than 40% of the audience attracted by the second Idol this spring -- and is also well below the audience of the first Idol last summer, when Simon became an immediate U.S. celebrity.

Auditions for Idol 3, which now are sure to feature Simon, will take place later this summer. For now, Simon can turn his energy toward criticizing lame contestants on Pop Idol ... and answering the charges that Cupid is "demeaning to marriage," which have led at least one CBS affiliate to refuse to air the show. Sorry, Simon, but burnout will have to wait ... at least until the stream of network cash runs out.

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