“American Idol” with no signature Simon Cowell snarkiness is hard to imagine. What with Paula Abdul laying on the love and Randy Jackson givin’ every dog his props, we need someone to throw cold water in the Kelly Clark-wannabes faces. But The New York Times’ Bill Carter reports today that negotiations with Simon Cowell for his return to Fox’s key prime-time show are in an extraordinarily delicate place at the moment.
At stake for Fox is the positioning of the most expensive show in broadcast TV, and whether it would be able to move the show from its Tuesday and Wednesday slots to have its results appear instead on Thursdays, the most lucrative advertising night of the week for broadcasters and currently most often won by CBS’ “CSI.”
“American Idol” topped Advertising Age’s fall pricing chart this year, with the average price for a 30-second spot going for $518,466 on Wednesdays and $496,866 for Tuesday nights. The average price for a 30-second spot on CBS’ “CSI” on Thursdays is $478,000.
But before Fox decides whether to take on CBS and "CSI," it would be prudent to make sure Cowell will be in the house. The reason he might not be is due to his successful talent show launch for British TV, “X-Factor,” which he reportedly would like to sell in the U.S. to a Fox competitor, such as ABC or NBC, according to Carter’s account.
Cowell signed a deal in 2003 that committed him to three seasons of “American Idol,” but that he only had the right to sign the winner and runner-up to his record label under Sony BMG for the first two seasons, and Carter quotes an associate of his saying he’s not interested in making another label a star.
Yet another complication is a lawsuit that goes to trial today in the U.K. that could be called Simon vs. Simon. Simon Fuller, the man behind 19 Entertainment, which created “American Idol” and the British version before that, “Pop Idol,” is suing Cowell for copyright infringement, maintaining that “X Factor” rips off the format of the “Idol” shows. (The formats are very similar, but “X Factor” is a three-tiered competition, with categories for singers under 25, singers over 25 and bands.)
The task facing Fox executives is to weigh Cowell’s desire to get back signing rights of winners, his interest in getting “X Factor” up on air in the U.S. and his enormous salary with just how much the “Idol” franchise will suffer if he leaves his Coca-Cola cup untended on the judge’s table.
Fox execs tell Carter the network hopes to have negotiations nailed down with Cowell this week. We, for one, are staying tuned.