'American Idol' team still in flux, Fox says

Joe Flint and Gerrick Kennedy
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — Senior Fox executives were hoping to unveil a new panel of judges for "American Idol" on Monday at the semiannual television critics press tour.

Instead, they spent a lot of time talking about what they couldn't talk about. While people close to the show confirm that musicians Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler have all but signed deals to join "American Idol" next January, Fox brass remained silent. The network also declined to comment on whether former executive producer Nigel Lythgoe was returning to "American Idol" as well.

"The only thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is no one has signed a deal," said Peter Rice, the entertainment chairman of the Fox Networks Group. He added, in the understatement of the year, that it is "not a fun announcement." Rice said the network expects to have its new panel in place by September, when auditions for "American Idol" hit full steam.

Already gone from "American Idol," the nation's most-watched television show, are Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres. DeGeneres left the program after just one season. Kara DioGuardi is also expected to exit, while Randy Jackson, who has been with the show since day one, is likely to return.

Rice said he thought DeGeneres was "great on the show" and would have liked her to have stayed. As for whether all the media attention around the show helps or hinders the efforts to revitalize it, he said, "doing this in a public fishbowl is very hard."

Whether either Lopez or Tyler will try to take on Cowell's role as a kingmaker on "American Idol" remains to be seen.

"We have to respect how much people love this format, and yet we have to make sure that in its 10th season that it's engaging and fun and people enjoy it," Rice said.

While Rice wouldn't talk about any changes to the show, he did promise that there would still be people singing and being judged.

Later in the day, "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy talked about the direction of his Emmy-nominated hit show, including:

1. The show's lifespan: "We obviously have to deal with the cast and the show that we hope goes on for years. We've sort of mapped out the first four years with this original cast," he said. "The thing about the show is you have set competitions that are true. There are sectionals and nationals, (but we also) want to go to Copenhagen or Moscow for international competitions."

2. Weekly themes are here to stay: All of the episodes will have a central theme, much like they did in the first season. Murphy confirmed the first episode in the upcoming season will be called "Auditions," based on the notion that everyday life — particularly high school — is an audition. The third episode will be about faith, with the kids talking about what God means to them.

3. "Britney, Britney, Britney": Murphy said the tribute episode to the pop star will be an unconventional one, compared with the Madonna and Gaga fests. It won't be the sole tribute episode next season. Murphy is in negotiations with a "big" pop artist to be featured in the highly coveted post-Super Bowl slot.

4. Sir Paul goes "Gleek": Murphy got a bit of a surprise recently when a mix tape from Paul McCartney made it his way. "It just sort of came out of the blue. It said, 'Hi Ryan I'd hope you'd considered these songs for Glee," he said of the two-disc mix tape. "I've heard he's a fan of the show. I was gobsmacked, I love this guy. Of course we're going to do something."

5. About that merchandise — there is lots of it, lots: With greeting cards, video games and a clothing line on the horizon is there anything the gang would say no to? Apparently so. "I'm very proud of the merchandise that we have. For every two things I accept, I turn down 10," Murphy said. "We're going to have Jane Lynch's character write her own autobiography (and of course cross promote it). That's an example of a book we'd do together."

6. No need to save up for soundtracks: After releasing a whopping five soundtracks (three albums and two EPs), Murphy promises they will scale it down.

"This year we will do less. We're doing a Christmas episode with Susan Boyle, but I don't think it will be a separate CD," he said.

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