Fox execs mostly silent on 'Idol' judges

Chairman Peter Rice says panel will be in place by Sept.

Fox let down reporters during its TCA press tour session on Monday, with network brass largely declining to answer questions about the judges' shake-up on its top-rated "American Idol."

"The only thing I can tell you with absolute certainty right now is that no one has signed a deal yet on either side of the camera to join 'American Idol'; next year who wasn't on it last year," Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice said. "Much of the information (in the media) is accurate ... and some of it is wildly inaccurate."

Rice opened the network's TCA session by making a statement about the one recent "Idol" headline the network has confirmed, that Ellen DeGeneres has left the show.

Rice said DeGeneres expressed misgivings in June about continuing and Fox offered to change the show's environment to make her more comfortable. They then mutually agreed that if Fox could replace her, it would.

Beyond DeGeneres, critics had a flurry of questions: Is Kara DioGuardi leaving? And Randy Jackson is staying, right? Will there be three or four judges? And certainly Nigel Lythgoe is returning as an executive producer, correct?

TCAs 2010  
"I can imagine there is a tremendous amount of follow-up questions; I'm not going to get into a fishbowl, blow-by-blow account, however much fun that might be for you or your readers," Rice said.

The one bit of news Rice would confirm: Fox intends to have a complete "Idol" panel in place by the time the judges join the show's audition trail in September.

Some have speculated whether Fox might be recalibrating its ongoing judge-hiring strategy based on some of the reactions the names circulating have received. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler have been considered the most likely new additions, with Elton John and Harry Connick Jr. also receiving buzz. 

Rice said, "You always listen to that stuff; there's no one I ever speak to here that doesn't have an opinion."

Tyler, meanwhile, said during an interview on the syndicated radio show "Kid Kraddick in the Morning" that he's been offered the "Idol" gig.

Rival broadcast network presidents have said that there's an opportunity to go after "Idol" with counter programming next year in the wake of top judge Simon Cowell's departure. Asked if he expects "Idol" to rank No. 1 next season, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly predicted the show would continue to dominate.

"I expect so," Reilly said. "There's an awful lot of (ratings) wiggle room there."

Though "Idol" talk dominated the session, the network announced that Steven Spielberg's time-traveling action drama "Terra Nova" will be pushed to fall 2011. With a blueprint similar to how the network launched "Glee," the show's pilot will be previewed in May, presumably after "Idol."

Reilly said "Terra Nova" is trying to find a place to shoot, with Louisiana, Hawaii and Orlando among the considered locations. And designers are still trying to craft the world for the show.

"We're trying to find a prehistoric world; we've seen a lot of design work," Reilly said. "We needed the time. Hopefully, it will do the same thing as 'Glee.'"

Reilly also was asked about the departure of his longtime friend, Steve McPherson, from ABC.

"All I can speak to is his depth of character," Reilly said. "He's a loyal and good friend. As a professional, he's not afraid to have the courage of his convictions, and it's made him a successful executive. It's been upsetting to me. My focus is being a friend to him and his family."

Reilly added that if McPherson's plans include producing, "the door is always open to him at Fox."

Kim Masters contributed to this report.
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