The tabloid woods this morning are full of reaction to that sensational name-dropping E! report yesterday that claimed “American Idol” and Fremantle had approached Adam Lambert (among others) to replace Randy Jackson. The only problem: Lambert said it's not true (see video below), which doesn't mean it's NOT true but just that he said it's not true.
So what's going on here? Negotiations! But you already knew that.
Here's what appears to be the only hard fact out there: None of last season's three judges, Jennifer Lopez, Jackson, Steven Tyler, have yet been signed to a new contract (which, if past is prologue, will be a short one when or if it is signed, of about a year's duration).
“Idol,” Fox and Fremantle clearly want to re-up Lopez who has indicated she wants to move on -- much as she was indicating this time last year. In about two weeks, Fox will be meeting the press at the TCA where the first question will numbingly be the usual ones -- what's the status of J.Lo, Ray Jay, etc.? And Peter Rice, Fox boss, will say, “we're not prepared to talk about the status of talks with 'Idol's' judges; next question.”
But, as they say, when in doubt always look at the money. You have a judging panel last season that made, in terms of gross, pretax salary, an aggregate of $30-$40 million -- and this for a season that saw a broad ratings decline across the board, which naturally meant a broad decline in total revenue.
Fox and Fremantle have made the determination that they want J.Lo back, and they know she'll want Britney Spears money (probably in the $15 million range though some guesstimates have her as high as $25-$30 million.) Tyler and Randy aren't looking for salary decreases, which means if the three were to be signed right now, the network and production partners would be looking at salaries in the range of $55-$60 million.
Let that figure sink in. That's a lot of money for: “man, that was just brilliant adaptation of 'Alone'/''When a Man Loves a Woman'/'I Have Nothing'/'Against all Odds.' Viewers have GOT to get you through to the next round..."
Really. Seriously. That is a lot of money.
Fox/Fremantle, et al, obviously want to keep salary levels even, or -- at optimum -- drop them. So what do you do? Begin the process. Get the rumors out there. Make Randy and Steve think they're expendable. Float a list of names -- Fergie! Will.i.am! Hell, why not Bieber! Get the press to write these names. Get the celebrities to respond to the rumors. Get Randy to respond to the reports.
And on and on. The game is so old it's got hair on it -- gray hair. And as Simon Cowell has proved, the game is fun to play -- it makes the press write about a show that not a single person on the planet, other than future contestants, would otherwise be thinking about. That's how “X Factor” stays in circulation.
Again, that doesn't mean there's nothing to the rumors. The judging panel will likely be a different one next season from the past season. The money has to add up.
But I've got to think this is a very very difficult problem for Fox and they know it. “Idol's” in decline -- that's obvious -- and playing judge roulette every summer is neither a good nor long term strategy. J.Lo is almost certainly not a long-termer, nor is Tyler. Fox also suspects, probably rightfully, that the get-the-biggest-celeb-you-can-think-of is a losing cause, too. After all, millions more aren't tuning in to “AGT” just because Howard Stern is there. Viewers really, truly don't tune in for the judge -- probably why Brit is a one-year-and-out figurehead. It's a hugely expensive strategy with nominal results.
Probably the best route for now is keep Randy -- he's a good judge, sometimes a very good one, and the only tie left to the glorious past. Get J.Lo back -- she's certainly turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. And then . . . get a fresh face. Someone smart, facile, intelligent, glib -- and cheap.
But Adam for Randy? When Brit replaced Paula? Not likely. There's an arms race on these shows for the biggest stars you can get, and blame Simon for that. If Randy or Steve were to go, expect a big name in their place -- that's just the way this game is now played.
Here are a couple of fun ones to float: Elton John. Justin Timberlake. They're just off the top of my head. Gimme a few minutes and I'll think of a dozen more.