Fox’s X Factor fired three of the five cast members, Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger, and Steve Jones, signaling that Fox and executive producer Simon Cowell are serious about changing the show. But blaming the show’s faults on them–especially by replacing one of them with Beyonce, as a report suggests could happen–may just be another example of Simon Cowell’s out-of-control ego.
The reasons for the firings were obvious: The show was pretty much a disaster, alternately boring and over-produced, with too much of the fake stuff that once made American Idol insufferable. Critics and journalists didn’t really seem to like it, although they certainly had to do the requisite pandering for page views. The X Factor also fell short of Cowell’s lofty expectations, and was far from a show that truly broke through the pop culture zeitgeist; as HitFix’s Dan Fienberg observed on Twitter, “FOX has gotten people — 5 or 10, at least — talking about a show nobody talked about when it was on.”
However, it did get solid ratings for Fox, debuting as the number-one new reality show in the fall. Fox detailed it successes in a press release. A lot of shows would kill for an average of more than 12 million viewers a night.
So why change it? I ask that seriously, even though I could barely maintain my interest and would rather drink donkey semen every night than watch another season of Simon and L.A. Reid pretending to fight with each other.
New judges could bring some buzz to the show as it goes into its second season. Simon Cowell can make smart decisions–such as the hiring of Howard Stern to judge AGT–but this show is his baby, the one he bailed from Idol to do. His ego prevented the show from being a smash hit, even though Fox’s marketing department did an exceptional job of creating hype for the show in the year leading up to it, because he just assumed people would show up for him and Paula and hype and a cool set. There’s a real chance that the changes could further alienate the audience and ratings could drop.
Hiring a big name may just be another example of Simon thinking, once again, that a name–like his–is all a show really needs. Last week, in a story that gets the show’s name wrong in the headline, Media Take Out reported that “Simon Cowell has offered Beyonce $500M,” $100 million for five seasons; an alleged “insider” said, “He wants a big name female star on the panel. Mariah [Carey] is good, but she’s not that hot today. He wants Beyonce because that would immediately give him the bounce needed to beat American Idol.”
Let’s assume that’s true for a second: it’s insane. There’s no way her presence on the show would generate a proportional return for that cash. Even if it’s not true, we’re undoubtedly going to get relatively big judges to replace Paula and Nicole, and be subjected to months and months of rumors about who they might be.
But the problem is that the star power of the judges was not The X Factor‘s major flaw. Sure, a big name might lead some people to check out the show, and perhaps Beyonce would be a better judge than Nicole Scherzinger (although in fairness, a cardboard cutout would do a better job judging than Nicole). The show’s foundation is its problem, and a big part of that is not going away, because Simon Cowell is its creator and executive producer.