Fox to order more 'American Idol'

Net will forge ahead with or without Simon Cowell

Fox is near a deal to order more seasons of "American Idol" -- with or without its most popular judge, Simon Cowell.

The network's current contract with "Idol" producer 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia extends through the end of the 2011. But the network is working on a new deal that includes three seasons of "Idol," though that number could still change.

The announcement is expected to demonstrate Fox's commitment to its top-rated series, even as "Idol" faces its biggest challenge yet.

The "Idol" franchise has been rocked by rumors that Cowell will depart the show after the upcoming season as he prepares to bring his hit U.K. music competition series "X-Factor" to the states. Cowell's brother Tony announced Tuesday on his weekly podcast that Simon will leave "Idol" at the end of 2010. The move could have a double impact on "Idol" -- the loss of a key personality to the series, and the addition of another music competition program on Fox that may result in fewer "Idol" viewers.

But before anything is finalized at the network, the "Idol" judge still needs to sign his new contract with "Factor" owner Sony. Once that's out of the way, Sony will allow Cowell to make a deal with Fox to bring "Factor" stateside.

Fox would prefer to bundle a "Factor" agreement with at least another season of Cowell judging "Idol." But by quitting "Idol," Cowell could make his participation on "Factor" a bigger event. One potential compromise is that Cowell could take a smaller role on "Idol" in 2011 -- judging the Hollywood rounds, for example, but not the auditions.

Fox was originally planning "Factor" for the fall of 2010. But delays in the Sony deal have pushed the show to an expected 2011 premiere date.

The headline-making leak on his brother's podcast as the latest in a series of headlines speculating about Cowell's plans. Recently, Cowell and business partner Philip Green made worldwide news by telling GQ a bizarre plan to have "X-Factor" exist as a live Las Vegas extravaganza that would stream as an international pay-per-view event over the Internet.