It looks like “American idol” is doing anything and everything to get its mojo back.
According to industry trade TheWrap.com, the prominent Fox reality singing competition, produced by FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment, has now canned its veteran executive producers, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, in an effort to boost ratings. Over the last few weeks, it has also been confirmed judges Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson and Nicki Minaj are out – with only Keith Urban’s status left in limbo.
Just prior to the season finale, an insider told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column that Lythgoe’s departure was inevitable.
“Both Nigel and [creator Simon Fuller] really clashed,” an insider told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “Ken and Nigel’s exit isn’t surprising…It’s hard for anyone involved in the production to get along with Fuller.”
Reps for Fox denied there was any tension between Fuller and the producers and insisted that they had always gotten along very well.
Once the absolute biggest show on American television – during its peak fifth season “American Idol” averaged 30.6 million viewers, while the recent season, the 12th, drew 13.5 million. But Hollywood forces aren’t ready to read the show its last rites quite yet.
The apparent axing may not be such a huge blow for Lythgoe, who always seemed much more passionate about the dance show, “So You Think You Can Dance”. An esteemed British dancer and choreographer, Lythgoe worked his way through the television ranks to become a tough judge on the Fuller-created “Pop Stars,” where he was coined “Nasty Nigel” by the British press. He later joined Fuller’s 19 Entertainment group as the President of Television, and in 2002 relocated to the United States to produce the then little-known “American Idol” with his production partner and former classmate, Warwick, who was also a dancer.
Lythgoe in 2008 left “Idol” to focus on his beloved “So You Think You Can Dance.” But following a slight ratings dip in “Idol,” just two years later he was brought back into the fold as executive producer.
This ongoing “Idol” shakeup is the latest big change for the show. Through the years we’ve seen a number of big names rotate in and out of the judge’s seat – from Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul to Ellen DeGeneres, Kara Dioguardi, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. We’ve seen the inclusion of instrument playing come and go, and the concept of celebrity mentors and performances become a marketing tool, then vanish altogether.
An overhaul seems the preferred option as studio executives plot the 13th season. But TheWrap.com reports that decisions regarding new judges and big-wigs behind-the-scenes are pending in the wake of alternative programming chief Mike Darnell’s sudden exit last week. A replacement has yet to be found. The publication also hinted at “dysfunction” between the three “Idol” masterminds – Fox, Fremantle and 19 Entertainment.
“It will return for at least a couple more seasons. Will ever be as big as it was? Honestly, no, I do not think so. ‘Idol’ no longer operates in a bubble. It operates in a saturated market, competing with ‘The Voice’ and many other shows, and even with a show on the same network, Simon Cowell's ‘X Factor,’ in a way,” said Lyndsey Parker, Yahoo! Music Managing Editor and Reality Rocks blogger.
But Parker also pointed out that with an increasing number of viewers relying on DVRs, Hulu, Netflix, etc, rather than watching the show live – ‘Idol’ may not be doing so badly after all. And last year's winner, Phillip Phillips, whose "Home" outsold Kelly Clarkson to become the highest-selling single in “Idol” history, proved the show can still generate successful recording acts.
The show has survived previous shakeups. When Cowell left, many thought the show could not go on without him. But it totally rebounded with a retooled Season 10, said Parker.
“The show can rebound with the right mix of judges and, more importantly, the right mix of contestants,” she added.
Fremantle declined to comment, and reps for 19 Entertainment and Seacrest did not respond to a comment request.
Danielle Jones-Wesley contributed to this report