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'The X Factor' U.S. downsizing if renewed in 2014; Fox names new reality execs

Simon Cowell
Simon CowellWireImage

Sometime in May 2014, Fox is expected to officially announce if "The X Factor" U.S. is going to be renewed for a fourth season or not. In the meantime, on Jan. 7, 2014, Fox announced changes to its senior management staff responsible for Fox's reality shows, which include "The X Factor," "American Idol," "So You Think You Can Dance" and Gordon Ramsay shows "Hell's Kitchen," "Kitchen Nightmares," "MasterChef," "MasterChef Junior" and "Hotel Hell."

Sources have told me that if Fox does renew "The X Factor" in 2014, then "The X Factor" will most definitely be "downsized" with a reduced number of hours since the show's ratings have continued on a downward spiral since its debut in 2011. (According to the Nielsen Company, "The X Factor" U.S.'s average ratings went from 12 million U.S. viewers per episode in 2011 to 9 million U.S. viewers per episode to 6 million U.S. viewers per episode in 2013.) It is still being decided what those reduced hours for "The X Factor" will entail. A lot will depend on how well "American Idol" (which airs from January to May) does in the ratings in 2014, and what on-air role "The X Factor" U.S., "X Factor" creator Simon Cowell would have on "The X Factor" U.S. in 2014.

Whatever the fate of "The X Factor" U.S. is, Cowell is headed back to "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel in 2014. As I first reported in September 2013, Cowell is expected to fill the spot vacated by Gary Barlow, who was a judge on the show from 2011 to 2013. Barlow had replaced Cowell on "The X Factor" U.K. in 2011, when Cowell left "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel to be a judge on "The X Factor" U.S. (Cowell continued to be an executive producer of "The X Factor" U.K. after he left the show's judging panel. As co-owner of "The X Factor" worldwide, Cowell still has a big say in what goes on with "The X Factor" franchise.)

"The X Factor" U.K.'s contestant auditions in front of the judges are held in May and June, boot camp takes place in July, and the judges' houses phase of the competition takes place in August and sometimes through early September. "The X Factor" U.K. (whose U.K. network is ITV) begins airing in late August or early September through mid-December, with live episodes that begin in October. That's a significant period of time that Cowell will not have to devote to "The X Factor" U.S., which has typically aired from September to December and has held auditions during the same months as "The X Factor" U.K.

As previously reported, Cowell is selling his mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif., and that is a sure sign that he does not plan to spend a lot of time in the Los Angeles area, where "The X Factor" U.S.'s production is based. There's a rumor floating around that Fox might reduce "The X Factor" episodes to airing from four months a year to one or two months a year. Under this scenario, "The X Factor" would air several days in one week, much like NBC's "The Sing-Off."

If "The X Factor" U.S. is renewed in 2014, another more likely possibility that is less disruptive to the other shows on Fox's schedule is that "The X Factor" will still be on the air from September to December, but it will be reduced from two nights a week (Wednesdays and Thursdays in the U.S.) to one night a week, just like what Fox did with "So You Think You Can Dance" when ratings for that show decreased. Again, it is still undecided at this point how many months "The X Factor" U.S. will get on the air if Fox renews the show in 2014. Cowell and company have proposed several of these "downsizing" ideas to Fox in order to save "The X Factor" U.S. from cancellation. But is the show worth saving if Cowell won't be a full-time judge on the show anymore?

In a December 2013 conference call with reporters, Cowell hinted that his role on "The X Factor" U.S. will be different if Fox renews the show in 2014. He also said that he wants the show to have an all-new judging panel. A few days after this conference call, Demi Lovato announced that she was quitting "The X Factor" U.S.'s judging panel because she wants to focus on her music career. Paulina Rubio and Kelly Rowland (who both joined "The X Factor" U.S. judging panel in 2013) are not expected to return, although Rowland told the media in December 2013 that she would return to the show if she is asked.

Sources have told me that there is no truth to the rumors that Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber will be named "X Factor" U.S. judges in 2014. First, the show would not be able to afford their salaries. As I previously reported, Fox ordered "The X Factor" U.S.'s budget to be drastically reduced after the debacle of paying Britney Spears $15 million to be an "X Factor" judge. Not only did Spears fail to boost the show's ratings (which lost millions of viewers after she became a judge on the show), but Spears was also widely panned by viewers and TV critics for being a dull and robotic judge. Secondly, Cyrus and Bieber wouldn't want to be judges on "The X Factor," which is considered a sinking ship. Although Bieber's career and reputation went downhill in 2013, he's still a top-drawing performer, as is Miley Cyrus.

These rumors probably got started because in December 2013, Cowell dropped hints in the media that a big name in the music industry suddenly became available to be a judge on the American "X Factor." Well, he said the same thing about Mariah Carey in 2011, but she's never appeared on the show. In 2011, she was in talks to a become a judge on "The X Factor" U.S. and ultimately declined because she was pregnant and due to give birth around the time of "The X Factor" U.S. auditions. Later that year, she cancelled an appearance as a guest mentor due to travel issues related to Hurricane Irene. Then she became a judge on "American Idol," and we all know how badly that turned out.

Cowell's return to "The X Factor" U.K. in 2014 was reportedly part of the renewal deal that he and his Syco production company signed with ITV, which agreed to keep "The X Factor" U.K. on the air until 2017. In May 2014, the "X Factor" U.K. is expected to officially announce the show's judging panel for the year. Cowell and Louis Walsh (who has been with the show since its 2004 debut) are expected to be on the panel. It is still unknown at this point if Nicole Scherzinger (who joined the show in 2012) will return. And "The X Factor" U.K. needs to find a replacement for Sharon Osbourne, who returned to the show in 2013 (after being a judge on "The X Factor" U.K. from 2004 to 2007) and said that 2013 was her last year as an "X Factor" judge, since she's too busy with her Los Angeles-based chat show "The Talk."

Back in the U.S., Fox has announced three executive changes to its alternative programming department, which is responsible for the network's reality shows.

According to a Fox press release:

  • Lisa Levenson has been named senior VP of alternative entertainment at Fox. She was previously executive VP of development for Cineflix Productions, where she launched the Los Angeles office and oversaw both development and production. Levenson has also served as an executive producer on numerous unscripted series, including 14 seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” for ABC. She has also held producer roles on CBS’ “Big Brother,” ABC’s “General Hospital” and syndicated hit talk show “The Jerry Springer Show.”
  • Alex Piper has been appointed VP of alternative entertainment at Fox. He previously served as senior VP of alternative television for Asylum Entertainment, where he helped develop, launch and oversee Asylum’s unscripted slate. In this role, he executive-produced numerous series, including “Being Mike Tyson” for Fox Sports 1, “The Locator” for WE tv, and “Addicted” for TLC. Piper also served as supervising producer on the Peabody Award-winning medical docu-series “Hopkins” for ABC and was a producer for NBC Sports and NBC Olympics, receiving six Emmy Awards for Olympic and other sports events coverage.
  • Amy Cohen, who been with Fox's unscripted team since 2005, has been promoted to executive director of alternative entertainment. She helps oversee "The X Factor," "Hell's Kitchen" and "American Idol." Most recently, she helped launch "MasterChef" and "MasterChef Junior" and continues to oversee the "MasterChef" franchise.

Levenson and Piper report to Fox executive VP of alternative entertainment Simon Andreae, who commented in the press release: "Lisa and Alex come to us with strong backgrounds, both as showrunners and as senior production company executives. As such, each is perfectly equipped not only to support our current unscripted slate, but also to help shape the next generation of hit Fox shows. We’re truly delighted to have them join."

Fox has recently been doing viewer surveys online and by email to ask people what they thought about "The X Factor" U.S.'s third season that aired in 2013. (Click here to see what people's responses were to the survey that was done on "The X Factor" U.S.'s official Facebook page.) It remains to be seen if executives at Fox and other "X Factor" decision makers will really pay attention to what viewers want and make improvements accordingly. The long list of bad decisions that have resulted in the show's rapidly declining ratings are clear indications that the decision makers are not paying attention and don't know how to fix this mess of a show. Many viewers say that "The X Factor" U.S. isn't worth saving if Cowell will no longer be a full-time judge on the show.

Feb. 7, 2014 update: It has now been officially announced: Fox has cancelled "The X Factor" U.S., and Cowell is going back to being a judge on "The X Factor" U.K. (Click here for more details.)