TCA Tour: Fox Executive Session

This morning, Peter Rice, Fox’s Chairman of Entertainment, and Kevin Reilly, Fox’s President of Entertainment, sat down for their network’s executive session, and you will be unsurprised to learn that they were positively bombarded with questions about Paula Abdul’s departure from “American Idol.”

“Paula is the only member of ‘American Idol’ whose contract was up this year,” said Rice. “We have been talking to her about it for most of the season, and we very much wanted her to return. In the past few weeks, the negotiation came to a conclusion, we made an offer that was fair to Paula, a substantial raise on the money she made in past, but Paula decided not to return. It was not our choice. We wanted her to come back to the show.”

Rice admitted that, given the short amount of time since Abdul’s announcement of departure, they didn’t have any big announcements to make about what they’d be doing, aside from the fact that
they would be focusing on the auditioning process and that it was their intention to have guest judges at each audition.

“We are talking to people now, a couple are confirmed, and we are talking about dates with others,” said Rice. “It’s our intention to have the guest judges be female pop stars, female performers, female artists.” Minutes later, he acknowledged that they had indeed gotten commitments from two such judges already: Katy Perry and Victoria Beckham.

“Between now and January,” said Rice, “we will come up with a more permanent solution on what we’ll do,” but of the inevitable change in dynamic with a new judge, he admitted, “There’s something exciting about that.”

Seriously, though, isn’t there still a chance she could still be back in the “Idol” fold come January?

That’d be a “no,” according to Rice. He says that the negotiations have concluded and that Paula Abdul is not returning.

“The expectation and hope was that Paula would come back,” he reiterated. “I think that when her current agent made a statement to the press two weeks ago, we thought, ‘What if she doesn’t come back?’ But we had no contingency. There is going to be a change, and we have to look at it as a positive change now, an opportunity for the show, to bring a different energy to it.”

Reilly, who had let Rice run with the ball, did finally chime in and remind us that, ultimately, the show is about the contestants. But I don’t think anybody bought that for a second.

Okay, that’s enough about Paula, but there was one more “Idol” note that came up during the session: no matter what you may have heard, Fox is not paying Ryan Seacrest $15 million to host “American Idol.” Seacrest’s $15 million deal is with CKX, Inc., which encompasses much more than “American Idol.” His original contract for “AI” remains in place.

Frankly, there wasn’t much time left after all of the Paula Abdul questions were asked and answered, but somewhere in the midst of it all, a few more random facts did slip out:

* The renewal of “Dollhouse” for a second season was due to the die-hard Joss Whedon fans, but Reilly swears that “it didn’t factor in from a fear place. It was more from a positive place. Those fans were there every week, and they stuck with it in a way that a lot of television fans don’t.” Now that he’s worked out the hiccups in the show, the official mandate for Season 2 of “Dollhouse” is for Joss to keep doing what he does.

* The decision to air the pilot of “Glee” as a standalone episode several months before its formal series premiere was “a marketing stunt,” one that did better than they ever imagined. Rice admits that the show’s a bit unique. “It’s definitely not saccharine, but every episode ends in an uplifting manner,” he said, going on to describe the series variously as “upbeat,” “subversive,” “sweet,” “emotional,” and “aspirational.”

* And, lastly, there are currently no plans to air the final six episodes of “King of the Hill.” Nice one, Fox. The series was always treated like the bastard child of the Sunday night animated line-up, so way to keep it that way to the very end.

  

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