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'The X Factor' U.S. cancelled; Simon Cowell returns to 'The X Factor' U.K.

Simon Cowell
Simon CowellGetty Images

On Feb. 7, 2014, Simon Cowell and Fox announced what I first reported back in September 2013: "The X Factor" U.S. has been cancelled, and Simon Cowell is returning to "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel. Cowell is replacing Gary Barlow (who replaced Cowell in 2011), since Barlow has announced that he will be busy in 2014 with a new Take That album, which will be followed by a Take That tour. In October 2013, Barlow officially announced that 2013 was his last year as an "X Factor" U.K. judge. (Cowell left "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel in 2011, but he has always been an executive producer/creator of the show.)

In a Fox press release, Cowell issued this statement about the cancellation of "The X Factor" U.S. and how he feels about leaving American television as a talent-show judge: "I've had a fantastic time over the last 12 years, both on 'The X Factor' and 'American Idol.' And apart from being lucky enough to find some amazing talent on the shows, I have always had an incredible welcome from the American public — most of the time!"

Fox Broadcasting Company chairman of entertainment Kevin Reilly commented in the press release: “To all of us at Fox, Simon is more than one of the most prolific TV personalities of our time — he’s part of our family. A consummate showman and partner, there’s no one more passionate or creative than Simon, and we feel so fortunate to have enjoyed such a wonderful, collaborative relationship with him over the past 12 years. Unfortunately, there is no 'X Factor' USA without Simon Cowell, but we understand and support his decision to focus on the international formats and on the next phase of his personal life. We wish him the very best, and it’s our sincere hope that we work together again soon.”

FremantleMedia North America president of entertainment programming/executive producer Trish Kinane added, “‘The X Factor’ has become a true global hit entertainment format produced locally in 45 countries, and since its launch in 2004, has been watched by more than half a billion people around the world. The U.S. version of 'The X Factor' has had a great run dominating the social media charts and discovering internationally successful artists, but Simon’s return to the U.K. ‘X Factor’ has been long anticipated. We have long-running partnerships both with FOX and Syco Entertainment and very much look forward to what the future holds for our ongoing relationships with them.”

In a separate press release issued by ITV (the U.K. network for "The X Factor" U.K.), Cowell said: "I’m absolutely thrilled to be returning to 'The X Factor' U.K. It’s been three years since I last judged the competition and I’m excited to find a global superstar again. The U.K. 'X Factor' has set the benchmark in finding worldwide superstars over the years including One Direction, Leona Lewis, Cher Lloyd, Olly Murs, JLS and Little Mix. Despite all the rumours, ITV and the producers have not decided on the rest of the judging panel quite yet. You’ll just have to wait and see."

Cowell also commented on Twitter: "Today was a day of mixed emotions. Excited to confirm me returning to the Uk X factor and sad to leave America. You realise how much you owe to the fans who have supported all of the shows we made in both countries. I have had a blast. Really the best time of my life. Thank you for the support and the fun we have had together. It's never forgotten. We found some amazing talent. And now the search begins to find the next star. That's why we make these shows."

Sources say there's virtually no chance that Cowell is going back to "American Idol," where he was a judge from 2002 to 2010, because Cowell does not own any part of "American Idol" (which is going through its own ratings problems), and he doesn't want to go back to being on a show where he would be just an employee, not a co-owner. Cowell has also had a long-standing feud with "American Idol" creator/executive producer Simon Fuller. Sources say that Fox's "American Idol" will definitely not be cancelled anytime soon and will continue to be given a high priority at Fox, since "American Idol" is still Fox's top-rated entertainment show.

Ratings for "The X Factor" U.S.'s third season (which premiered on Sept. 11, 2013, and ended on Dec. 19, 2013) reached an all-time low, with an average of about 6 million U.S. viewers per episode, according to the Nielsen Company. That's a big decrease from the U.S. audience that "The X Factor" U.S. had in the show's first season in 2011 (which averaged 12 million U.S. viewers per episode) and the show's second season in 2012 (which averaged 9 million U.S. viewers per episode).

Cowell has been telling the media that he's been "happier than I've ever been" now that he is going to become a father. (Cowell and New York socialite Lauren Silverman are reportedly expecting a baby boy in February 2014.) But Cowell can't be happy about "The X Factor" U.S.'s disappointing ratings and the show's failure to find an international superstar on the level of "American Idol" first winner Kelly Clarkson or "X Factor" U.K. boy band One Direction.

"The X Factor" U.S. has been a humiliating blow for Cowell, who in 2011 bragged to the media that the show would premiere to at least 20 million U.S. viewers. In reality, the show's first season premiere only got 12.5 million U.S. viewers, which are the highest ratings that the show ever got for a single episode. And even though Fox's "American Idol" has also had a big decline in ratings in the past few years, "The X Factor" was never able to surpass "American Idol's" ratings in the United States.

In a December 2013 conference call with journalists, Cowell once again misled the media with overblown hype by saying that "The X Factor" U.S. would be renewed for a fourth season in 2014. I expressed my doubts about how true Cowell's statements were, and now it's been proven that Cowell was very wrong.

But don't feel sorry for Cowell. He's still making millions (an estimated $95 million a year, according to Forbes magazine) from his entertainment empire, which includes "The X Factor" and "Got Talent" franchises around the world, as well as Syco Music (the company he co-owns with Sony Music), whose best-selling artists include One Direction and Susan Boyle. And he has a backup plan to return to "The X Factor" U.K. as a judge. He is currently a judge on ITV's "Britain's Got Talent."

"The X Factor" U.S. was plagued with constant changes to its on-air talent, and these changes made the show look unstable. Cowell was the only star of the show who was with "The X Factor" U.S. since the beginning. He was also an executive producer of the show.

To recap, here's who came and went from "The X Factor" U.S. since 2011:

  • Cheryl Cole (judge) -- Fired in the first season after just a few weeks on the job.
  • Paula Abdul (judge) -- Fired after the end of the show's first season.
  • Nicole Scherzinger (judge) -- Fired after the end of the show's first season. (Scherzinger joined "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel in 2012, and she has had more success on the U.K. show.)
  • Steve Jones (host) -- Fired after the end of the show's first season.
  • Antonio "L.A." Reid (judge) -- Quit at the end of the show's second season.
  • Britney Spears (judge) -- Contract not renewed. Insiders say that Spears knew she was going to be fired, and she announced her departure from the show first to the public in order to make it look like she quit.
  • Khloe Kardashian (co-host) -- Fired after the end of the show's second season.
  • Demi Lovato (judge) -- Quit at the end of the show's third season.

In 2013, "The X Factor" U.S judges were Cowell, Demi Lovato (who joined in 2012) and 2013 recruits Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio. The host was Mario Lopez, who joined the show in 2012.

"The X Factor" U.S. was heavily criticized for copying "American Idol" in too many ways. (FremantleMedia North America is a production company for both shows.) Cowell tells the media that he thinks that there are too many talent shows on TV and that they hurt "The X Factor's" ratings in the U.S.

But Cowell does himself no favors when he tries to blame other talent shows for the failures of "The X Factor" U.S., because in the TV business, the lowest-rated of the shows are almost always the ones to be cancelled. Many TV critics and industry observers believe that "The X Factor" hurt ratings for "American Idol," not the other way around. In addition, "The Voice" U.S. has been able to greatly increase its ratings since its first season (unlike "The X Factor" U.S.), so "The Voice" U.S. is an example of a show that has been able to thrive in the face of tough competition.

The real problems with "The X Factor" U.S. had do with the show's content and choice of talent, according to many viewers who have been speaking out on the Internet about what's wrong with the show. These problems include unlikable judges or hosts; bombastic stage productions; annoying editing; contestants who aren't considered as talented as the contestants on "The Voice"; and the perception that Cowell has lost his edge. Many viewers think it's too late to fix these problems because the show won't be able to win back the millions of viewers that it has already lost. Fox obviously agreed and put "The X Factor" U.S. out of its misery by cancelling the show.

In 2012, "The X Factor" U.S. was in danger of being cancelled because the show's costs were spiraling out of control. A large chunk of the budget was wasted on Spears' reported $15 million salary. Spears' celebrity status did not help the show's ratings. In fact, after she became an "X Factor" judge, ratings for the show fell a whopping 33 percent, to an average of about 9 million U.S. viewers per episode. And even worse, Fox lost millions in ad revenue because the ratings fell below Fox's promised expectation to advertisers, according Katz Media Group.

Sources told me that Fox decided to renew "The X Factor" U.S. for a third season on the condition that the show drastically reduce its spending. Chief among the mandates: no more eight-figure salaries for a judge. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lovato's "X Factor" salary in 2013 was $2 million (up from a little more than $1 million in 2012) Rubio's "X Factor" salary was $1.5 million, and Rowland's "X Factor" salary was $1 million. The National Enquirer reported that Lopez's "X Factor" salary in 2013 was $2 million, up from the reported $1 million he got from the show in 2012.

It's also no coincidence that "The X Factor" U.S. abruptly cancelled the "boot camp" and "judges' houses" phases of the competition in 2013, most likely to reduce expenses. Boot camp involves the show paying for 100 to 200 contestants acts to stay in an upscale hotel for about a week, not to mention the renting out of an arena for the boot camp performances. Judges' houses (which is something that really set "The X Factor" apart from the competition) involved the 24 or 32 contestant acts that were chosen from boot camp getting trips to different (sometimes exotic) locations, where they went to different mansions to perform for the judges mentoring their respective categories. A celebrity guest mentor is paired with each judge to help the judge decide which contestants to keep or eliminate. "The X Factor," of course, would have to pay for the travel and accommodations for all of those involved.

The third season of "The X Factor" U.S. was a "make it or break it" season. Not only did the show lose millions of viewers, but TV critics and many viewers also slammed the show's third season for being dull, predictable and unoriginal. In a survey done on "The X Factor" U.S.'s official Facebook page after the show's third season ended in December 2013, many people said the show's third season was the worst ever.

It should be noted that "The X Factor" franchise has been a success in other countries where it has launched in recent years, including New Zealand, China and Indonesia. However, in the U.S. (the world's largest TV market), "The X Factor" was a major disappointment that lost an alarming percentage of viewers with each subsequent season.

"The X Factor" first launched in the U.K. in 2004 and has since expanded to numerous other countries. Ratings have decreased for "The X Factor" U.K. since Cowell left the show's judging panel in 2011, but the ratings are still strong enough that ITV has renewed the show at least for the next few years. BBC's "The Voice" U.K. has not surpassed "The X Factor" U.K. in the ratings.

The opposite is true in the U.S., where NBC's "The Voice" U.S., now averages about twice as many viewers as "The X Factor" U.S.

In addition, "The Voice" U.S. is critically acclaimed and, in 2013, won TV's highest honor: an Emmy Award. "The Voice" made history by becoming the first singing show to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program.

"The X Factor" won awards for favorite reality competition show (at the 2013 People's Choice Awards and the 2013 Teen Choice Awards), but they pale in comparison to the prestige of an Emmy Award, which isn't voted on by teenagers who have the time to flood websites with their votes.

As for who will be on "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel when Cowell returns, it's too early to say, but expect Louis Walsh to remain a judge on the show. Despite announcing that 2013 would be his last year with "The X Factor" U.K., Walsh more recently admitted to the media that his announcement was a pre-emptive strike in case he got fired. Walsh has threatened to quit the show many times before, so he's like the "X Factor" judge who cries wolf.

Sharon Osbourne announced that 2013 was her last year as a judge on "The X Factor" U.K., and she has changed her mind before too. If she really does leave the show, it will probably because she wants to spend more time in Los Angeles, where she co-hosts the CBS weekday chat show "The Talk." In her 2013 memoir, "Unbreakable," Osbourne repeated her statements that 2013 would be her last year as a judge on "The X Factor" U.K. because she did not want the demanding commute back and forth between the U.S. and the U.K. to do both shows.

Osbourne also said that she returned to "The X Factor" U.K. to get closure, since she quit the show in 2007 because of conflicts with then-judge Dannii Minogue, who was a judge on "The X Factor" U.K. from 2007 to 2010. (Minogue became a judge on "The X Factor" Australia in 2013.)

In 2013, Osbourne ended up mentoring Sam Bailey, who was the winner of "The X Factor" U.K. that year. It's very likely that Osbourne will stick to her word about not going back to "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel since she probably wants to go out on top as a winning judge/mentor.

As for Scherzinger, it's anyone's guess if she will remain on "The X Factor" U.K., because a lot will depend on how much money is offered to her and how much time she wants to spend on her music career, since she plans to have a new album and tour in 2014.

Ever since Cole was fired from "The X Factor" U.S. in 2011, some British tabloids keep publishing stories that she is going back to being a judge on "The X Factor" U.K. or that she plans to star in another TV show. So far, all of these stories have turned out to be false. Cole has repeatedly said in interviews and on Twitter that she doesn't want to work for Cowell again, and she has no plans to star in a TV show since she wants to stay focused on her music career.

In September 2013, Cowell was seen having a business meeting with British singer Rita Ora, so it seems the search for a new "X Factor" U.K. judge has already begun. Ora said that in early 2013, she turned down an offer to be a judge on the show (to replace Tulisa Contostavlos, who was fired), so it's possible that Ora (who was a guest judge on "The X Factor" U.K. in 2012) could be a contender in 2014. Any serious negotiations for a new "X Factor" U.K. judge in 2014 won't happen until March or April.

In the meantime, ITV is keen to have Cowell back as a judge on "The X Factor" U.K., with very high hopes that he can boost the show's sagging ratings.