Will viewers still worship a new 'Idol'?

LOS ANGELES — First, know this: It's not the end of the world.

But on a day when the TV world seemed to be coming apart — NBC sorta confirmed America's Got Talent judge Piers Morgan would be headed to succeed Larry King at CNN, for instance — American Idol fans faced the most jarring news of all.

One day after Ellen DeGeneres announced her departure from the show's panel, Broadcasting and Cable magazine and the Hollywood Reporter confirmed pop star Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler are nearly set to join the program, baffling fans who say neither star has shown any ability to judge on TV's highest-rated franchise.

The move sounds like a Hail Mary pass. Gossip website TMZ.com reported that judge Randy Jackson may be the last man standing, amid rumors songwriter Kara DioGuardi was dropped.

Reporters here for the TV Critics Association press tour hope Fox will bring one or more of the new judges to its press conferences on Monday (late-breaking reports now say they won't); a fellow journalist told me Aerosmith was in town, but Tyler was not granting interviews.

Rumors are flying about more changes: that former executive producer Nigel Lythgoe is returning from So You Think You Can Dance, and hopes to bring fellow Brit Elton John on board. Past whispers that Justin Timberlake, Chris Isaak or Harry Connick Jr. might fill the judges' table seem less relevant now.

Certainly, Idol could use an overhaul; criticism that the contestants were lackluster and judges had little chemistry seem obvious. And a return to the focus on music with a panel featuring at least three singers-musicians sounds promising.

But since auditions are ongoing, it's tough to know how much impact these changes will have. DeGeneres' bumpy ride proved how difficult jumping on Idol can be, for even the most experienced performer.

And one of the sharpest criticisms of Idol — lodged by Lythgoe himself — was that last season focused too much on the judges.

So hiring J.Lo and the biggest mouth in rock 'n' roll doesn't seem exactly low key.

Still, there's hope Lythgoe's sharp eye and willingness to move oddly will help Fox resurrect a show that has seemed hamstrung by its ponderous lack of self-awareness. And if it all implodes next week, at least Idol will give us one last, spectacular show.

• • •

The most newsworthy tidbit NBC-Universal TV chairman Jeff Gaspin dropped came after his Friday press conference.

Asked if NBC's new three-year deal with America's Got Talent host Piers Morgan meant they would be sharing him with CNN, Gaspin gave one answer. "Yes."

Otherwise, he was cautious and hopeful in discussing a fall season with seven premieres. "I think we made too many changes too quickly from a position of weakness, so it was a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Gaspin of NBC's move last year to wipe out five hours in prime time for Jay Leno.

Gaspin and prime-time honcho Angela Bromstad shrugged off questions about star Steve Carell leaving The Office next year, saying they had known before the news was public and planned to make the search for Michael Scott's replacement a part of the story line.

During the network's series of press conferences, journalists learned the original Law & Order series likely will not be revived, though Iron Man's Terrence Howard will join Alfred Molina in playing district attorneys on the new Law & Order: Los Angeles. Tina Fey's 30 Rock will perform a live episode Oct. 14, and Rob Lowe has joined Amy Poehler's comedy Parks and Recreation as a series regular.

Gaspin downplayed complaints by some critics that it's new comedy about a customer call center in India, Outsourced, was racially insensitive, citing support from the show's east Indian actors.

"When I worked on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, we had gay hosts and producers were gay. … If they were not uncomfortable, it's a little unfair for me to say the show was offensive," said Gaspin, formerly president of the Bravo cable network.

Will viewers still worship a new 'Idol'? 07/30/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 31, 2010 12:25am]

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