Yesterday, I live-blogged NBC’s news-packed TCA executive session. That panel was nothing but Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien questions. It’s possible that FOX’s executive session is going to be more exciting.
At the very least, we’ve got a far more diverse slate of possible questions. Is Conan O’Brien coming to FOX? Is Simon Cowell leaving “American Idol” at the end of this season? Why the heck did “Our Little Genius” get pulled? This may, in fact, be the tour’s most jam-packed panel.
So follow along (and click through) as FOX Entertainment President Kevin Reilly and FOX Chairman Peter Rice entertain the press…
11:53 a.m. Pacific. The stage is still clearing from FOX’s “Sons of Tucson” panel. We’re curious about what’s coming next, but we aren’t sharpening our knives like we were for NBC yesterday.
12:04 p.m. We’re fairly confident that there’s a major “X Factor” announcement coming at the start of the exec session, which may be the sort of excitement that monopolizes most of the questions. And darnit, I want to find out what happened with “Our Little Genius,” since the FOX publicist on the show refused to clarify the scandalette.
12:06 p.m. We presume that “X Factor” will then mean Cowell’s exit from “Idol,” which will, by my count, be the last sign of the coming of The Rapture.
12:15 p.m. Ack. Tension. Unbearable. “American Idol” without Simon would be like… Um… Wait. Instead of thinking about this, I’m going back to singing along to “Defying Gravity” off of the “Glee” soundtrack, which is overwhelming the ballroom. The exec session is 15 minutes late, leading to speculation that FOX is desperately trying to reach a contract with Conan before the session, or that the youngest kid from “Sons of Tucson” has gone feral out in the lobby.
12:22 p.m. I’m just going to keep vamping to kill time here. It’s either that or write an article about Bradley Whitford’s new mustache.
12:23 p.m. Peter Rice says they have a good reason to be late, but they’ll tell us later. For now? They’re happy at being No. 1 for the first time starting the January Tour.
12:24 p.m. Peter Rice acknowledges he’s going to get to both Conan O’Brien and Simon Cowell in a few minutes.
12:25 p.m. Kevin Reilly gets to lead off with the good news from FOX’s fall, repeating the news about the “Glee” renewal. Rice raves about the interactive audience for “Glee.” As we know, three characters are being added in a national search. There won’t be a formal voting component, but audiences will be able to give their opinions. The winners will be revealed in the first episode and until that time, viewers won’t know who had been chose. Reilly hints that scenes may be double-shot with finalists to keep the suspense.
12:28 p.m. Rice is going to lead with “Conan O’Brien and the NBC situation.” Reilly describes them as being in the “wow-wee” mode. Reilly says that late night is something they’ve always been looking at. “I love Conan personally and professionally,” Reilly says, but adds that Conan has to make the decision about his future for himself. They’ve had “informal conversations.”
12:29 p.m. Oooh. Special guest. Simon Cowell!!!
12:30 p.m. Such drama. “Right… Um… What do you want to talk about?” Simon says, slouching back in a comfy chair. Rice asks Simon about “X Factor” and his “American Idol” future.
12:31 p.m. “We reached an agreement formally at about half-past-10 this morning,” Cowell says. “X Factor” will launch in 2011 with Simon judging and executive producing on “X Factor” and this will be his last season on “American Idol.” He adds, “Thank you for your patience and that’s what’s happening.”
12:32 p.m. MORE DRAMA! Simon signs his contract in front of us. End of an Era, kids.
12:33 p.m. “We’ve always had a fantastic relationship with FOX. I’ve tried to be loyal to the people who gave me my break on television,” Simon says, adding that there had been discussions about his staying on both shows, but he didn’t think it was practical or functional.
12:34 p.m. “When the player retires, the football team will continue to be successful,” Simon says, saying that he believes that “Idol” will be protected without him and that the show will continue to be No. 1 without him.
12:34 p.m. “Simon is irreplaceable, but it will be incumbent upon us to make sure that the show is vital,” Rice says.
12:36 p.m. Simon rules out the possibility of Victoria Beckham as a permanent “X Factor” judge. He says they could have rushed the “X Factor” production to have the show on the air this season, but they didn’t want to do that because of the logistical challenges. He promises an announcement will come fairly soon on who the “X Factor” judges will be.
12:37 p.m. Simon compares this to the uncertainty of the first year of “Idol.” “I genuinely didn’t know if we were going to be here for six months or six days.” He adds, “I loved that first year when I just didn’t know if it was going to work or not and I feel that now about ‘X Factor.'”
12:39 p.m. Now it’s time to explain what “X Factor” is to an audience of American critics. He says the age range could be as low as 14 or possibly lower and that there will be no upper limit. “You can literally be 100,” he says. Also, contestants can enroll as groups. Then, the judges are responsible as mentors as well, making a new level of responsible. “So essentially, the judges are judged as well as the singer,” Simon says.
12:40 p.m. Reilly says that “So You Think You Can Dance” would move back to summer, though that deal isn’t in place yet.
12:41 p.m. Who does Simon think should fill his “American Idol” chair. “I’m going to suggest that Ryan do it, because he can have another job then.” His only recommendation is that “Idol” get somebody who knows what they’re talking about. “This country, thank God, has still got thousands and thousands of talented people,” Simon insists.
12:42 p.m. Diminutive FOX Reality Guru Mike Darnell is in the house and pretending to look happy. Simon notes that he’d always said he was leaving after this contract and people had just thought he was negotiating. “I want to leave ‘Idol’ this year bigger and better than it’s been this year, genuinely I do,” Simon says.
12:43 p.m. “I don’t like rules,” Simon says of the advantages for “X Factor” over “Idol.” He references Susan Boyle as why he likes doing shows without an upper age limit. “Without a show like that, she couldn’t have landed a recording contract,” Simon says.
12:44 p.m. Wow. FOX is going to escape without an explanation for the “Our Little Genius” fiasco. Well played, FOX.
12:45 p.m. Simon says the X-factor involves the way people connect with audiences in live auditions and live performances. He calls it a “David vs. Goliath” format, that makes it more diverse and honest. “Right now? Who’s got the biggest X-factor in the world? Lady Gaga,” Simon says.
12:46 p.m. There will be multiple weekly episodes of “X Factor.”
12:47 p.m. Peter Rice says they aren’t going to speculate on the short list to replace Simon. “The reason we’re making the announcement in January is that we want to give ourselves time,” Rice says. He says it’s about chemistry and it isn’t something they’re going to rush.
12:48 p.m. “We have some of our own research,” Rice says when a critic references a report that 60 percent of viewers would leave if Simon goes. They’re excited about “X Factor” in the fall, “American Idol” in the summer and “So You Think You Can Dance” in the summer.
12:49 p.m. What’s going to make this season of “Idol” bigger and better? “I like the contestants this year,” Simon says, contrasting it with three years ago, the Taylor Hicks year (“It wasn’t the best, was it?” he asks). “I’m very proud of what the show’s achieved,” he says. “It’s been a fantastic time.” He adds, “I think right now America needs a second show, a different type of show.
12:51 p.m. Is there a place for Paula Abdul on “X Factor”? “Look. I’ve gone on the record. I adore Paula. Whatever happens, I will be working with her in some capacity, because I miss her. But like I say, you’re just going to have to watch this space,” Simon says. and now he’s off to Hollywood for some “American Idol” filming.
12:52 p.m. Asked about expectations for “American Idol” this season, Peter Rice says he hopes Ellen DeGeneres will give it an infusion of energy. But he says nothing in particular.
12:53 p.m. Stuff about the Time Warner fracas.
12:55 p.m. “Pop Idol” stopped in England and “X Factor” replaced it, Peter Rice clarifies to a question about “X Factor” killing “Pop Idol” in the U.K.
12:56 p.m. What’s the future of “American Idol” on FOX? Contractually? “We have a very long-term agreement with 19 and Fremantle,” Rice says, not clarifying actual length.
12:56 p.m. “We did not know until literally 24 hours before we announced it last week,” Reilly says of the “Our Little Genius” fiasco. Two producers who were responsible for handling the kids and “information was overlapping” that could have compromised the contest. Reilly’s suggesting that there was only a hint of impropriety and that Mark Burnett wanted to get out ahead of the potential issue, were there to be such an issue. We still have no idea what that means.
12:58 p.m. Mark Burnett says he wants to re-produce the show himself, but there’s no timetable for when that’s really going to be able to happen. Reilly’s happy, though, because this lets then re-air “Human Target,” which lost its NFL lead-in when the NFL gave FOX the early game, rather than the late game. So “Human Target” will play on both Sunday and then Tuesday after “Idol.”
12:59 p.m. Alan Sepinwall hates Randy Jackson and asks if they’ll use Simon’s departure as a chance to reevaluate the various judges. Peter Rice isn’t biting and says the judges have a great chemistry. Rice says they “will not look for a Simon clone.” Reilly praises the show’s overall production and says the producers will keep things running. Rice wants us to understand that producing “American Idol” is an 11-month process, that it doesn’t just happen overnight.
1:02 p.m. We’re still looking for “Our Little Genius” clarification, both on what happens and if it’s ever actually going to air. Reilly insists that they’re “creatively happy with the show” and that the problem was with those individual episodes and not with the mechanics of the show.
1:04 p.m. “We feel that that was more compelling. He had less time between seeing the contestants you loved,” Rice says on why we went back to a Top 24 this season on “American Idol.” Rice adds that they have a handle on the episode-timing to prevent a repeat of the episode where only two judges got to evaluate each contestant.
1:05 p.m. Reilly and Rice agree that “So You Think You Can Dance” wasn’t a disappointment in the fall and that they were happy with how it did, if only because it was compatible with “Glee.” Reilly says it was “very competitive.”
1:06 p.m. Reilly says that “Code 58,” presented earlier in the day, is an indication of a new paradigm of year-round programming.
1:07 p.m. “Dollhouse” question! Why is FOX airing all 13? “We ordered 13,” is Reilly’s answer. “Friday night was not our finest night. We’ve got work to do there. So back to the drawing board on Friday,” Reilly adds, praising the quality of “Dollhouse.”
1:08 p.m. FOX’s No. 1 development target for the fall is finding live-action comedy hits. He describes their live-action comedy as “anemic,” but that development is improving. “We’re getting back in the comedy business,” he vows. Reilly gives no credence, though, to the possibility of picking up another network’s castoffs like, specifically, “Better Off Ted.” Also on the agenda is fixing Friday. But first up is fixing the summer and fixing live-action comedy at the network.
1:11 p.m. “Hopefully it’s a win-win,” Reilly says of the possibility that “X Factor” might cannibalize the “Idol” audience and talent base.
1:12 p.m. “Idol Gives Back” is coming back (as we knew) and may now be an every-other-year program for “American Idol.”
1:13 p.m. That’s it. Well THAT was newsy!!!