Simon Cowell has been making noise about vacating his position as lead judge on American Idol for some time now, but as his current contract with the show winds down, it looks likely that his most recent comments in an interview with the Daily Mirror of London regarding his desire to depart the hit series after the next season may be quite serious. Though his previous threats to leave Idol behind have been largely dismissed as negotiating ploys designed to boost his already enormous $36 million annual salary (!), many observers, including former NBC exec Warren Littlefield, are speculating that the drastically overworked Cowell — who also serves as a judge on X Factor and Britain's Got Talent — may actually be interested in lightening his workload.
There is also a possibility that Cowell may leave the show in order to pursue an American version of his X Factor program, which he is contractually barred from selling in the United States as long as he appears on Idol. The only thing that seems sure at the moment is that if he actually does walk away from American Idol, the show would lose a substantial chunk of its audience, which is already on the decline.
Clearly, this puts Fox in a precarious position. Idol is still the 800-pound gorilla of their lineup, not only in terms of its ratings and the revenue it directly generates, but also in the way that the network continues to leverage its audience to launch its other programs (i.e., House, 24, Lie To Me). It would be integral to both the show and the network's medium-term success to keep Cowell onboard, but because Cowell is already insanely wealthy, his decision whether to stay or to go likely won't be solely driven by anything Fox will offer him on the salary front. What Simon seems to be angling for here is power. Somehow, at the end of all this, we think there's only one way to keep Simon happily on board as a member of Team Fox: Rupert Murdoch needs to write Cowell into his will.