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Mike Darnell, Fox's President of Alternative Programming, Who Has Guided One of the Biggest Hits Ever on TV -- 'American Idol' -- for Its Entire Run, Is Leaving the Network TVWeek; Deadline.com

Mike Darnell, Fox's president of alternative programming (officially Fox calls it alternative "entertainment"), whose contract is up at the end of June, is leaving the network when his contract expires.

In a statement Darnell said, "I'm extremely grateful that Fox has offered me a new long-term contract (and anyone who knows me won't believe I'm saying this), but I've decided it's time for a change. With my current deal ending in June, and having been here for 18 years (kind of a record in Hollywood), I had to make a decision: either stay (and basically admit to myself I was going to retire at Fox...not a terrible choice) or leave and try something new. I've been in 'reality' since before it was even called that, and it has truly been an amazing ride. However, the world has changed drastically over the last few years and now with hundreds of channels and limitless ways to watch television, I've decided this was the perfect time to take advantage of the rapidly changing marketplace."

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox parent News Corp. also said in a statement, "Mike took risks at a critical time and was a pioneering force in shaping the reality programming genre that exists today. He's a smart and fearless executive who will be missed."

Writes our friend Nellie Andreeva at Deadline.com, "Shortly after we broke the news of Fox president of Alternative Programming Mike Darnell’s decision to depart the network after 18 years, I got to speak to Darnell about the bombshell news. 'I remember considering leaving the last time,' he said. 'This happens every time my contract is up. It’s always an excruciating decision.' This time he couldn’t resist the temptation of other opportunities. 'I love it here, but there are all these other things out there.' What things is he most attracted to? 'I will take a little time to feel my way through, but it will be something that is creative and exciting that has a sense of entrepreneurship,' Darnell said, indicating that a career as a producer may be in the cards.

Andreeva's interview adds, " 'The last couple of years have been very intense, with me taking on duties of a current executive and line producer' Darnell admitted. As for his legacy, 'I’ve done good things, I’ve done bad things, I’ve done funny things and I’ve done evil things,' said Darnell, whose stature in the business is far greater than his 5’2″ height. Fox’s search for Darnell’s successor won’t be easy. 'They’ve got some some really small shoes to fill,' he quipped."

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Fox' reality show guru Mike Darnell is leaving the network