The Idol Apocalypse is here: Ellen DeGeneres is leaving American Idol as part of what’s shaping up to be a massive restructuring of TV’s most-watched show. DeGeneres announced her departure via a press release issued by Fox (as well as her own Twitter feed) late Thursday, saying she told the show’s producers a few months ago that the show “didn’t feel like the right fit for me.” Her exit had been hinted at in recent days as word spread of Nigel Lythgoe’s return to Idol as one of several executive producers, prompting speculation that all bets were off when it came to the future shape of the Idol judging panel. While DeGeneres’ resignation probably won’t be seen as a big loss — reviews and fan reaction to her first (and only) season on the show were decidedly tepid — Idol is getting dangerously close to being seen as a show in panic mode. Finding a credible, respected replacement for Simon Cowell, and announcing that person quickly, has now become a priority for Fox and the producers of Idol.
DeGeneres said she delayed making her exit known because she “didn’t want to
leave them in a bind” and to give them a chance to “figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings.” Fox and Idol execs all issued the usual statements expressing their support for the fallen DeGeneres, but in fact, Vulture has heard that many close to the show were disappointed in DeGeneres’s performance, saying she had troubles bonding with Cowell early on during her run. The two ultimately patched up their differences, but DeGeneres never seemed to find her mojo, often seeming more like a scared deer than a witty musical expert. What’s more, having four judges often resulted in repetitive critiques and didn’t help the live show’s attempts to stay on time. Nobody at Fox was immediately commenting, but it wouldn’t be a shock if Idol decided to return to the three-judge format that served the show well for so many seasons.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Fox’s TV Critics Association press tour session Monday, where reporters will be expecting the network to offer some sort of clarity about the show’s future — even if a replacement for Cowell isn’t named. What’s puzzling about the recent Idol drama is that the show actually remains in darn good shape for a 10-year-old show. Yes, its ratings have been declining, but at a slower pace than some major scripted hits (like Grey’s Anatomy, for example). And that’s even after a bad year, when the contestants were almost universally panned, and Cowell had clearly checked out, resulting in a slew of stories understandably bemoaning how lame Idol had become. But as long as producers manage to find more interesting finalists, and don’t mess up the pick for replacing Cowell (Bret Michaels is out of the mix, so that’s a good sign), there’s no reason Idol won’t remain No. 1 for at least another season.