Are Simon Cowell and "American Idol" kaput after next season?
Which may be another way of musing: Is "American Idol" then kaput?
An intriguing - and apparently well-sourced - story in News Corp.-owned Times of London yesterday says Cowell is poised to sign a variety of deals early next year that could mean the end of his long "Idol" run.
There have been many media reports in recent months that Cowell was considering his endgame at "Idol" and ready to walk after his contract ends in 2011 - prompting breathless and almost certainly ludicrous press speculation that Fox was ready to throw over $100 million at him to keep him on the program another season.
In addition, Cowell has been curiously - and uncharacteristically - reticent on the hiring of Ellen Degeneres as Paula Abdul's replacement. That's led to more speculation - most notably, that he's unhappy with the hire. Maybe, maybe not, although Abdul has long been considered a leading candidate to host "The X Factor" - the Brit show that discovered Leona Lewis and Susan Boyle - when it comes to these shores in 2011. (Judges on the Brit version of "Factor," Cheryl Cole and Louis Walsh, have also been mentioned.)
The piece also said that "X" was set to begin "filming" in Los Angeles next fall, and would definitely land at Fox - no doubt grim news to NBC which has a long-standing Cowell relationship via "America's Got Talent" and hoped to be in the running for the American version of "X" even though Fox was always considered the frontrunner.
Unclear - and unsaid - in the Times story, however: Is Cowell negotiating for a bigger piece of "X Factor" ownership - the show is owned by Sony - or could the on-going negotiation involve Cowell's hosting BOTH "Idol" and "Factor," as he does already? He's living fulltime in Los Angeles now.
In addition, the Times story said Cowell told FBC boss Peter Rice "six weeks ago" that he was considering stepping down as "Idol" judge after this season. That's not exactly news to the U.S. entertainment press which widely reported in September that Fox was pressing to get two more "Idol" seasons out of him though 2012, and that big money was forthcoming.
And of course, much can happen over six weeks, and doubtless has.
Nevertheless, the Murdoch-owned London Times could be dead-on accurate here. Judging two similar talent shows on the same network - as well as "X Factor" for ITV in the UK - wouldn't be just unprecedented but probably overkill as well, while diminishing two of Fox's most important franchises, and making the judge (as they say across the pond) barmy too.
"Idol" without Simon Cowell? Unthinkable. He's half the fun, and - paradoxically - the biggest star to actually emerge from this singing competion show.
Awaiting comment from Cowell's reps.