Now that Simon Cowell admits he's leaving American Idol, can TV's highest-rated show survive?
Star American Idol judge Simon Cowell finally confirmed the rumors, telling TV critics in Los Angeles today that he is leaving Fox's highly-rated talent competition after this season to star in his own Idol-style context, The X Factor.
Rumors have percolated for more than a year that Cowell, bored by serving only as talent on American Idol and eager to star in a American show he controlled, would leave TV's highest-rated show once his contract was up.
But many experts -- this one included -- had a hard time imagining anyone could walk away from a salary reputed anywhere from $36-million to $50-million annually to try duplicating a show which already dominates American television.
Cowell confounded everyone, signing his contract during the American Idol session at the TV Critics press tour to slap an exclamation point on it all.
According to numerous reports, Fox executives wouldn't speculate on who might replace Cowell. But they had to be more relieved than ever that Ellen DeGeneres agreed to join the show's judging table, providing major star power just when the show needs to prove is can survive without its most popular judge.
Which brings up a good question: Can the show survive?
There's lots of folks willing to bet against that possibility, as Cowell's caustic comments were viewed as the most savvy and entertaining aspects of the program. But a story on the Daily Beast suggests that the strain between Cowell and the show's producers eventually grew too great, leading Fox to agree to air X Factor in fall 2011.
There's a few reality TV judges who seem to be available, both for Cowell's American X Factor and Idol, including recently-departed Idol judge Paula Abdul and David Hassellhoff, who recently left NBC's America's Got Talent, which Cowell executive produces and owns.
For nearly nine seasons, Fox has kept Idol a special event by only presenting the show in winter. Attempts to clone the show in a different direction featuring kids and bands also failed.
So you have to wonder: Is Fox getting two shows which will score good ratings in exchange of cannibalizing one blockbuster? And will Cowell's impending departure energize the final season, or turn it into a three-month long wake?
Why it may work: Cowell's a smart producer, X Factor eventually eclipsed the British Pop Idol show in England (unearthing singing phenom Susan Boyle), ABC's Dancing with the Stars produces the third and fourth-highest rated shows on TV by doing its dance competition twice a year.
Why it may not: It's not clear there's a star to replace Cowell on Idol, outside of NBC's summer hit Talent, Cowell hasn't had much success producing American unscripted shows and american Tv audiences are different than the British.
We'll begin to see the answers to those questions when American Idol debuts tomorrow.