Fox execs yesterday during a session with the press addressed reports that Conan O’Brien is bolting NBC for Fox.
“I love Conan personally and professionally, but right now he’s got a decision to make about his future, and until he makes that decision, there really is no conversation to be had, and we have not pursued it,” said Kevin Reilly, Fox’s entertainment president.
“We talked to his people, who we are in business with on multiple fronts. We talk to them all the time. So we’ve had some informal conversations, mostly commiserating about the situation. Beyond that, we’re not free to talk about any other business negotiation or business proposition, and we haven’t. So that’s really all we can tell you on that front,” he added.
What could have been another session focused on NBC’s woes took a 180-degree turn when Fox brought out American Idol host Simon Cowell, who announced he is leaving the long-running (and top-rated) show in May to launch a U.S. version of U.K. hit The X Factor. Cowell will serve as both executive producer and judge of the U.S. version, which will feature the judges mentoring a select group of musical wannabes. Unlike, Idol, there is no age limit for the participating contestants.
“I’m confident that [Idol] will continue to be the No. 1 show, and everyone’s committed to keeping it that way,” said Cowell. “I think the network has made a commitment for at least three more years.”
“We are incredibly committed to American Idol, as we’re committed to The X Factor,” said Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice. “They will air in different parts of the year. The American public loves American Idol. Simon is irreplaceable, but it’s going to be incumbent upon us to make sure the show remains vital and entertaining and compelling, and it’s a show that has launched superstars. People love the format, and we have to come up with a way to keep that energy in the show going and keep it focused on the contestants.”
There is no word from Fox on potential replacements for Cowell, or if former Idol judge Paula Abdul would be joining The X Factor.
“I adore Paula,” said Cowell. “Whatever happens, I will be working with her in some capacity because I miss her.”
In other news, the emphasis at Fox next season will be on comedy development. The network also is not about to abandon an aggressive programming slate on Friday. (There is no official news on when, or if, recently yanked reality competition show Our Little Genius will return.)
“This is something that happened at the producing level, a miscommunication in which information was potentially overlapping that could have seemed to compromise the sanctity of the show,” said Reilly. “Mark Burnett, to his credit, I think at a very early stage, looked at this and said, ‘This could open up a possibility of impropriety, so I’m going to shut it down now.’ Going forward, Mark has indicated he wants to reproduce Our Little Genius himself. We haven’t had a chance to really engage on that, so we’re going to cross that bridge next.”