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Another day, another elephant.
After ABC presented an executive session at press tour where executives couldn’t talk about the departure of Steve McPherson, Fox had a panel Monday where network brass largely refused to discuss the judges panel shakeup on “American Idol.”
“The only thing I can tell you is that no one has signed a deal yet on either side of the camera to be on ‘American Idol’ who wasn’t on the show last year,” said Fox’s entertainment chairman Peter Rice. “Much of the information [in the media] is accurate and some of it is wildly inaccurate.”
Rice opened up 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 about continuing on the show in June, Fox offered to change the show’s environment to make her more comfortable, they mutually agreed that if Fox could replace her they would and then Fox recently decided they could put together a panel without her.
Beyond DeGeneres, critics had a flurry of questions: Is Kara DioGuardi leaving? Randy Jackson is staying, right? And certainly Nigel Lythgoe is returning as executive producer. Will there be three or four judges?
“I can imagine there are 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.
Rice did confirm Fox intends to have a complete panel in place by the time the judges join the show’s audition trail in September.
Some have wondered whether Fox might recalibrate its judge-hiring strategy based on some of the responses the current list of names have received in the media. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler have been considered the most likely new additions, with Elton John and Harry Connick Jr. also receiving some buzz.
“There’s no one I ever speak to here that doesn’t have an opinion,” Rice said after the panel. “You always listen to that stuff.”
That said, Rice added that the network does not focus-group test potential names.
Rival network presidents have said over the past week 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 still expects “Idol” to rank No. 1 next season, 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 Fox’s executives session, the network announced that Steven Spielberg’s prehistoric action drama “Terra Nova” will be pushed to Fall, 2011. Like how the network launched “Glee,” the show’s pilot will be previewed in May, presumably after “Idol.”
Reilly said “Terra Nova” is still trying to find a place to shoot, with Louisiana, Hawaii and Orlando among the considered locations. Also, 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 was also asked about the departure of his longtime friend Steve McPherson from ABC.
“All I can speak to is his depth of his 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 professional plans include producing, “the door is always open to him at Fox.”
— Kim Masters contributed to this report
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