At least one of the rumors regarding American Idol turned out to be true: Former producer Nigel Lythgoe is returning to the show for the next season.
The buzz on this whole deal is that Lythgoe had left the show amid disenchantment over the four-judge format. That will fuel the other big rumor regarding Idol's restructuring — that judge Kara DioGuardi is toast and two new faces will appear at the judges' table come mid September, when they tape the celebrities' judging of folks culled from the big cattle call auditions.
Indeed, Lythgoe told the New York Post when DioGuardi was hired: "I don't like fourth judges. I think once you've been told 'You suck,' you don't need to be told another three times."
I have lots of respect for Lythgoe — the show seemed to run off the rails when he left, and his public criticism of the show since he left has always been on target. But two things are happening here that I fear will threaten the revamp of Idol.
1. The heart of the show is the contestants, which nobody seems focused on right now. As the big suits haggle over finalizing contracts for new judges, everyone forgets that the auditions for new talent are happening right now. The celebrity judges won't even be in place until several rounds of auditions are done and the contenders are in place. So who's minding that store?
2. This judging drama repeats a mistake of last season: too much focus on the judges. Idol producers are in a pickle here. Choose a big name like Elton John, J.Lo or Justin Timberlake, and most of next season will be spent dissecting how well those people fit in the judging mix, diluting the show. Choose names who may be good judges but unknown — U2/Dave Matthews producer Steve Lillywhite is an example — and the press spends weeks criticizing the lack of star power and comparing the unknowns to star predecessors Simon Cowell and, yes, Paula Abdul.
Perhaps now that Lythgoe has his contract worked out — did he time it this way to avoid all us sharks at the TV Critics Association press tour? — we'll see more changes come faster.
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At the risk of burning you out with too much Glee, producer Ryan Murphy and the show's stars let a lot of great tidbits loose while talking with TV critics here this week.
A BEATLE'S MIX TAPE: Paul McCartney sent Murphy a mix tape for the show. "I thought I was being punked," Murphy said. "It was two CDs and it said 'Hi, Ryan. I hope you would consider some of these songs for Glee' and then it said 'Paul.' … So, of course, we are going to do something with (them)."
SUE GETS MEANER: Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester will get meaner in Glee's second season, if you can believe it. "I have this new female football coach that I'm really out to destroy, and I get awful with her," said Lynch. "I find her Achilles' heel and I'm relentless with her. (Will Schuester and Sue) kind of join forces, but he's such a wuss, he's never able to go in there with the velocity that I have."
HOLIDAY EPISODE: Glee is planning a Christmas episode with Susan Boyle. Ummm. Okay.