The TV Column
Eyeing J-Lo, 'Idol' banks on judges' rejuvenation
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF.
Imagine if, when Jerry Seinfeld decided he'd made enough money on "Seinfeld" and pulled the plug on the show, NBC had kept it going and replaced not only Jerry but Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander, leaving only -- Newman! (Wayne Knight.)
That's what we're seeing at Fox's "American Idol." The implosion of a TV-ratings supernova has begun.
Singer-dancer-actress Jennifer Lopez is nailing down a deal to replace comedian-judge Ellen DeGeneres. "Idol's" acerbic British judge and show star Simon Cowell is long gone and shriveled rocker Steven Tyler is the current front-runner to take his place. The singing competition's tightly wound songwriter-judge Kara DioGuardi's contract has not been renewed and, hopefully, she's not holding her breath.
Reporters Who Cover Television gnawed on their fingernails Friday at Summer TV Press Tour 2010, waiting for word that Fox had wrapped the deal to replace Ellen with J-Lo, who trade papers suddenly discovered is considered to have been one of the best mentors ever to appear on the show.
So far, no one by any name but "unnamed source" is saying the deal is done. But for J-Lo, a move to "Idol" would mark a return to the Fox network. Like ex-"Idol" judge Paula Abdul, J-Lo was a dancer first; she got her big TV break as a backup dancer on the network's "In Living Color" sketch comedy show in the '90s. Most recently, Lopez appeared in the flick "The Back-up Plan," which was a far cry from her 1997 starring role in "Selena."
The network is also reportedly in talks with Tyler to replace Cowell, who announced in January that he was decamping to produce and star in "Idol's" rival "The X Factor" -- also for Fox. Tyler's the front man of Aerosmith -- the one who looks like a Beverly Hills matron just coming from Pilates class.
As for sophomore judge DioGuardi, there is much chatter that she's out and the show would be returned to its original, three-judge format. Only Randy Jackson, who has another year on his contract, is considered likely to return to the show in January.
The gutting of the judges' table is not a huge surprise since Nigel Lythgoe is being brought back to executive-produce the show. Lythgoe had shepherded "Idol" for years before leaving over arguments about its direction. Last season's quick fixes, including casting DeGeneres, blew up in Fox's face with the finale attracting 24 million viewers which, while a hefty-size audience in today's TV environment, is the franchise's smallest finale audience since its first season, when "Idol" was a summer show. It's about 12 million viewers shy of its finale crowd just four years ago.
This spring, Lythgoe made a part-time job out of talking about how he would get rid of all the judges on the show if he were king, because they had no chemistry and Ellen was a disappointment. Hard to argue either point.
DeGeneres said Thursday that she was stepping down because of her busy workload on her daytime talk show.