Ellen DeGeneres sings her Idol swan song
by Ed Bark on July 30th 2010 at 3:34 am
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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The news landed like a grenade just as TV critics were wrapping up Day Two of the ongoing network "press tour" with a Gossip Girl goes to Paris session presented by the CW network.
Fox, which won't make its fall season presentation until Monday, nonetheless made Thursday's biggest splash with an email announcing that Ellen DeGeneres will be ending her tenure as an American Idol judge after just one season.
Her departure further fueled rumors that a wholesale remaking of Idol is underway, with one of its original producers, Nigel Lythgoe, returning to take charge after two seasons with Fox's So You Think You Can Dance.
"A couple months ago, I let Fox and American Idol know that this didn't feel like the right fit for me," DeGeneres said in an accompanying statement. "I told them I wouldn't leave them in a bind and that I would hold off on doing anything until they were able to figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it is hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings."
In truth, DeGeneres easily was the tamest of last season's four judges, especially during the final weeks of Season 9. She occasionally delivered a deft one-liner, but also sagged comedically as the show neared its big goodbye to mainstay judge Simon Cowell.
Lythgoe, who openly criticized Idol last season (including comments made to this writer during a Think You Can Dance stop in Dallas), was against expanding the judging contingent from three to four. Absent DeGeneres and Cowell, Idol now has only two holdover arbiters -- Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi. Lythgoe reportedly would very much like to have Elton John as a judge. Other names floated as potential judges include Harry Connick Jr. and Usher.
In Fox's Thursday evening statement, Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice said, "We love Ellen and understand and support her decision to bow out of Idol. "We were fortunate to receive the humor, energy and love for talent that she brought to the show."
Other Fox executives essentially played the same violin music, with alternative programming head Mike Darnell saying he was "saddened by her decision," but "very appreciative that she gave us ample notice so that we could work through it together."
Idol's ratings dropped again in Season 9, but its weekly Tuesday and Wednesday editions still ranked as the 2009-10 TV season's two most popular prime-time programs, according to Nielsen Media Research.
This summer, a number of planned performances by the show's touring 10 finalists have been canceled due to low ticket sales. And the show's last two winners, Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze, are widely seen as lacking in both stage presence and overall star power.
It will all make for a very interesting day Monday, with Fox programming executives scheduled to hold their session late that morning.