Peter Rice, Chairman, Fox Networks Group, threw cold water on widespread reports that the network has set its new panel for American Idol.
"The only thing I can tell you with any certainty right now is no one has signed a deal yet to be on American Idol who was not on last year," said Rice.
The statement seems to directly contradict reports and sources who say that Jennifer Lopez has finalized a deal while Steven Tyler is close to signing a deal to fill out the judges table with Randy Jackson. Rice said much of the information written has been accurate, but some of what has been written is "wildly inaccurate."
Rice addressed the "tremendous speculation" about American Idol at the top of Fox's executive session Monday (Aug. 2) at the Television Critics Association press tour.
In a scrum with reporters after the session, Rice said that he tried to talk Ellen DeGeneres into staying on the show. DeGeneres announced July 29 that she would not return for a second season citing her queasiness with criticizing contestants.
"Ellen is an amazing television personality," said Rice. "She's incredibly professional. I personally think she was great on the show last year. We would have preferred she had stayed."
Rice spent much of his time in the scrum, which was dozens of reporters deep, deflecting pointed questions about Idol.
"When we have deals, we'll tell you. I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of how we're trying to make this decision," he said. "You guys are really really good at this. You get information from all sorts of places. As I said, some of it is correct and some of it is wildly incorrect and I'm not going to tell you which is which."
Rice would not confirm reports that judge Kara DioGuardi was fired or that Nigel Lythgoe has a deal to return to the show as an executive producer.
Rice acknowledged that the intense scrutiny does make the delicate process of negotiating with celebrities somewhat more difficult.
"Doing this in a public fish bowl is very hard," he said. "Closing deals with people in Hollywood is always hard. Until they're signed, they can always fall apart. And then there would be a great story about how a deal fell apart."
Rice and Kevin Reilly, President, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company, said they expect Idol to retain its dominance next season regardless of any perceived vulnerability amid the shakeup of the judges' panel.
Speaking to reporters after the session, Reilly pointed toward the wide margin that remains between Idol ratings and those for any other show. "We slice and dice the numbers every which way and there's an awful lot of wiggle room," he said, noting that the show remains an hugely important part of Fox's lineup - but not all there is too Fox's success. Fox is "not a one-show network," but Idol will be a "hugely dominant" part of the network's schedule for years to come.
Reilly also addressed Friday nights and summer scheduling, two areas of primetime that tend to be the lowest-viewed among the broadcast networks. He said he is taking a shot with summer series Good Guys paired up with sophomore Human Target on Friday nights. He said the networks have neglected Fridays and summer is a similar story. Fox "stepped forward this summer" with originals of Lie to Me and the premiere of Good Guys. "It's not everything we want but it's a step forward," he said. "It's a start."