Ex-producer Lythgoe confirms that he's back to rescue 'American Idol'

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, August 6, 2010; C04

Fox finally confirmed what we, and others, have been reporting since last week: Nigel Lythgoe has returned to "American Idol" as an executive producer.

On Thursday morning, Lythgoe waxed nostalgic about his history with the singing competition franchise:

"Since we launched the original 'Pop Idol' in England . . . " Blah, blah, blah. " Working as executive producer on 'American Idol' for its first seven years not only was an inspirational journey into the heart of American pop culture, it opened my eyes to the untapped potential of . . . " Blah, blah, blah. "I have been able to continue discovering raw talent on 'So You Think You Can Dance,' which I co-created . . . " Blah, and blah, and more blah.

Hopefully he will not, as rumored, become one of "Idol's" new judges, because he clearly cannot give short comments.

Lythgoe was brought back to overhaul the show, which is still the country's most-watched series but has taken a ratings tumble over the past two seasons. He previously had been focused on overhauling Fox's "Dancing with the Stars," after which its ratings went -- oh wait, what's this? -- down.

On Wednesday morning, he was quoted telling Variety he wants to bring Paula Abdul back as an "Idol" judge. But Paula, of course, is under contract with CBS to star in her own dance competition series. Lythgoe's obviously going to be a big-picture guy, and not get bogged down with details.

Lythgoe was never going to ask singer/musician Michael Feinstein to mentor or guest judge on "American Idol" when the show does another one of its inevitable Frank Sinatra-themed weeks, even though Feinstein is the expert on that era of music.

Feinstein hates the show.

"To see the bashing of young souls on television for the sake of sport, and ratings, and a witty line is unconscionable," Feinstein told TV critics during his Q&A session at Summer TV Press Tour 2010.

Feinstein had come to the Beverly Hills Hilton to promote his three-part PBS special, "Michael Feinstein's American Songbook," airing in October.

"Generations of kids are watching this program and are gaining permission to treat other people that way, to judge them and to say nasty things to them," Feinstein said of the Fox singing competition.

"To see a show where souls are dismissed wholesale in that way is a very sad and dangerous thing."

Whoopi: Yeah, I said that

"I make no apology for my choice words," Whoopi Goldberg said firmly at the top of "The View" Thursday about her backstage run-in on Wednesday's show with America's Favorite White House Party Crashers, Michaele and Tareq Salahi.

"Her husband got in my face, had his BlackBerry out and started taking pictures of me. Needless to say, I really went off then. And there was even more choicer words . . . so choice, you could have cut them with a knife and eaten them," Whoopi said of the fracas that erupted.

Things got very heated on the ABC talk show Wednesday when the cast members of Bravo's "Real Housewives of D.C." talked about the drink Tareq threw at one of them last week during Summer TV Press Tour 2010. Whoopi walked out on stage, touched Michaele -- who was sitting closest to her -- on the arm, asked her to get back to talking about the White House dinner party incident, then turned and walked off stage.

After the show, someone told Whoopi that Michaele "thought I hit her," Whoopi said on Thursday. "So I went up to her and I told her that she knew I didn't hit her -- and, yeah, you know how I said it. Choice words" (of the kind we can't print here).

The studio audience applauded wildly. Hooray for choice words!

Earlier Thursday morning, Salahi and her castmates went on NBC's "Today" to plug the new "Housewives" Thursday night debut. But Michaele wanted to talk about "The View" melee.

"I don't know [Whoopi's] personality," Michaele emoted. "I know her from the movie 'Sister Act' so I don't expect a sister to be saying '[Bleep] you.' "

Meanwhile, the other "Housewives" cast members were stewing about their on-air time being turned into yet another episode of "The Michaele Salahi Show."

"We're so tired of hearing it and talking about it," cast member Mary Amons snapped. "This is a show about five people, not one couple."

"In general, are you over [Michaele]?" "Today: The Fourth Hour" co-host Hoda Kotb asked sweetly.

"Completely, yeah," "Housewives" cast member Catherine Ommanney confirmed, without a second's hesitation.

Rosie to work for Oprah

Want to know what Oprah Winfrey thinks of public television?

Oprah Winfrey spits on public television.

In the middle of PBS's day at Summer TV Press Tour 2010, Oprah announced that Rosie O'Donnell is returning to daytime TV in a talk show (gak) on the Oprah Winfrey Network. If Oprah had waited until the next morning, she could have announced it during Discovery's day at the tour -- Discovery being Oprah's partner in OWN.

So instead of listening to Benazir Bhutto's cousin Mahin Hemmat and Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, talk about the new PBS Independent Lens project "Bhutto," TV critics and reporters were madly typing on their laptops about how the sometimes polarizing Rosie -- or, as Oprah's camp calls her, "Multiple Emmy award-winning television host, celebrated performer, renowned philanthropist, and all-around talent Rosie O'Donnell" -- has had a love-hate relationship with daytime TV for years.

From 1996 to 2002, she hosted the syndicated daytime talk show "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," during which time she won six consecutive Daytime Emmy Awards for best talk show. She left because, she said at the time, she wanted to do other things.

But that didn't take and she accepted the gig as Meredith Vieira's replacement on ABC's daytime talk show "The View" in 2006, where she had some interesting exchanges of ideas with Donald Trump about her body type, her romantic partner and the role of beauty-pageant owners. That resulted in a hefty 27 percent ratings increase for that show. But even so, "View" exec producer Barbara Walters was not sorry to see Rosie go after a single spectacular train wreck of a season, and they did not part as friends.

After that, Rosie made an unofficial bid to helm CBS's re-mounting of "The Price Is Right" early in that show's development, but that gig, of course, went to Drew Carey.

Rosie's as-yet-unnamed daily, hour-long daytime talk show will be based in New York, where she lives with her children. OWN promises that "fans can anticipate a fun, uplifting show with Ms. O'Donnell's playful and energetic style." And, presumably, Rosie will do her part to contribute to OWN's mission to "entertain, inform and inspire people to live."

A cute-animal break

Heading into the Cranky Phase of a TV Press Tour, smart network executives begin to bring out toys with which to distract grouchy TV critics.

Small adorable animals, for instance.

Clever PBS brought a lemur, a prehensile-tailed porcupine, and a Chihuahua to the tour Thursday. The first two were charged with helping to promote PBS's new animated kids show "Wild Kratts," from Chris and Martin Kratt -- the same guys who brought your kids the PBS series "Zoboomafoo."

Critics were never properly introduced to the lemur, who took it personally and spent the first few minutes of the Q&A session trying to escape the room by making repeated runs at Martin's shoulder.

After a few unfruitful bids, the lemur, a realist, decided it was a non-starter what with being on a leash, and spent the rest of the session sitting on the stage at Martin's feet, his back turned to the critics to let them know what he thought of them. Occasionally the lemur's curiosity would get the better of him and he'd make a dash at climbing up inside the leg of Martin's cargo shorts.

Boris, the prehensile-tailed porcupine, had better luck -- he was paired with Chris, who had a stash of snacks.

But Boris was not impressed with the critics either, and he and Chris did not see eye to eye on what his role in the Q&A session should be. For maybe the first time in Press Tour history, an animal was able to convey in no uncertain terms how he felt about being there -- by leaving lots of sharp quills in Chris's chest and neck. Chris, figuring out Boris meant business, deposited the porcupine on a chair. Boris, feeling he'd made his point, sat contentedly, his back to the critics, chewing thoughtfully on a granola bar, while the lemur, who was snackless, stared daggers at him.

Chris, plucking quills from his shirt, turned it into one of those so-called teachable moments, explaining how a porcupine quill can travel through a predator's skin and into its body until it punctures a vital organ.

Life is more rough-and-tumble for Scooby the 7-year-old Chihuahua, who performs in the Big Apple Circus with acrobat Christian Stoinev. Scooby and Christian ran though some of their routine (which you can see in the PBS documentary series "Circus," debuting in early November).

Scooby performed a flawless walk-on-front-legs. Mostly, Scooby gets paid to be cute as a button, which can be hard on a male Chihuahua, especially one doomed to wear a rhinestone collar to work. After he performed, Scooby got to sit in the audience with Christian's mother.

Christian explained that he got Scooby as a pet when the dog was just three months old, and that one day when Christian was lying on the floor, Scooby jumped onto his chest, started walking around his torso and never looked back.

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