Based on my conversations with some Fox insiders and others close to the situation, here's the skinny:
A number of folks at Fox were pissed when Abdul went public with her negotiations.
Personally, I think Fox is playing with fire by not re-signing her. Yes, as the show's former showrunner, Nigel Lythgoe, has said, 'American Idol' is really about the contestants and their aspirational dreams, and the audience's connection with that.
And, as Lythgoe has also pointed out, "Idol" has been successful all over the world.
But...there have been other shows that have basically tried the 'Idol' format here and have failed. How much of the success of the show is because of the chemistry between the original three judges, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell? And clearly that love/hate thing that Abdul and Cowell have going on is palpable in our living rooms.
When I mentioned that to one person close to the situation, here was the response: "Yeah, but Paula's incredibly polarizing as well."
This person was doubtful that an accommodation will be made with Abdul to re-sign her at this point.
Indeed, another person close to the situation said that, "The list of people who have called the 'Idol' producers to take Paula's place would make your head spin. It's a Who's Who of the music industry."
Wow. That's quite a statement. And maybe it's true. Let's assume it is.
If so, here's what I think Fox should do. One of the key elements that makes 'Idol' successful is the input we viewers have. Ultimately, we choose who wins.
So even though Fox didn't ask our opinion about how important we thought it was or wasn't to keep Paula, now that we're affected by this mess, they should ask us to help them clean it up.
Give us a list of potential judges, give us which phone numbers to call to vote for them (or text our vote if we're with AT&T---hey, let's not miss a sponsorship opportunity on this) and America will decide.
Let's have some fun. Hmm, who's gonna be on the list? Who's called Fox already? Maybe pop vet Tina Turner. Cyndi Lauper's name has been bandied about. Is Fantasia available? Beyonce? Is Bette Midler still in Vegas?
It doesn't necessarily have to be a woman. What's Snoop Dogg doing? Or Jay-Z? Is Berry Gordy available?
And why limit it to folks in the music biz? The only reason 'Idol' is on American TV at all is that Rupert Murdoch gave it the high sign after hearing from his daughter Elisabeth, who had seen the U.K. version and said she thought it would be terrific here.
If they know something about music--and who among us would say we DON'T--wouldn't we love to see a Murdoch on the judge's panel? I don't know about you, but I'd actually pay to see Simon mix it up with Rupert.
What's Warren Buffett doing? Or Warren Beatty? Or Warren Moon? Warren G? Is Lesley Ann Warren busy? I KNOW Nikki Finke has strong opinions.
Can Condoleezza Rice make it out here to Hollywood a few days a week? I know that Sarah Palin can.
You get the idea.
Fox, the next move is yours. Get us a great list together, put it out there, and let us vote. America will get you the next judge on "American Idol."
This idea has got to be incredibly seductive to anyone at Fox. No business plays the blame game better than people in Hollywood.
But this way, if 'Idol' now tanks, when Chase Carey goes looking to take it out on somebody and give him or her their walking papers, everyone at Fox can say, truthfully, "Hey, I didn't pick the judge. America did. Go fire them."#