X Factor’s cancellation buried in hilarious malarkey

The X Factor has been cancelled by Fox, though the network’s hilarious press release spun the news by saying the show “has concluded its domestic run” and attributed it to Simon Cowell’s decision to return to the UK version to judge. In reality, this is just the inevitable cancellation of a failed show that has actually hurt its parent company financially. The exercise in stroking Simon Cowell’s ego is over.

The U.S. version of the series that effectively replaced Idol in the U.K. wasn’t all bad: I really liked its aesthetic, especially the documentary feel of the contestant profiles. Its ridiculously huge stage and big spectacle was fun. But ultimately, the series was an updated American Idol, not a derivative but still new thing, like The Voice. And X Factor failed at really basic things, such as understanding that a successful judges’ panel is about more than paying millions of dollars for people who have names and are known for their drama.

From the first to the third season finales, The X Factor lost half of its viewers. And those low ratings were “contributing to the dramatically lower earnings” at 21st Century Fox, The LA Times reported. I guess when I suggested the show be renamed “Money Dumpster,” I wasn’t that far off.

(By the way, Fox’s COO Chase Carey also said this about American Idol: “It’s a great show. But it’s not a show that drives the whole network the way it did in the past. We know it’s coming to the end; it’s winding down.”)

The Fox press release came out late Friday, when, of course, everyone would be paying attention to that instead of, say, the weekend or those Olympics things. While there was “no decision” from Fox about a month ago, last year, Simon insisted the show would return.

The press release works very, very hard to avoid saying that the show has been axed, and as a result, it pretty amusing, primarily the way it starts by saying the show “has concluded its domestic run after three seasons”–as if it was always just a temporary thing, like “Annie” playing at the local dinner theatre.

It’s also headlined to focus on Simon leaving rather than the show’s cancellation: “Simon Cowell to Depart U.S. Version of The X Factor.” I guess “without having to face up to the failure of his show in the United States” wouldn’t quite fit in a headline. In his press release quote, Simon is gracious, but blames this on having to choose between the U.S. and U.K., as if there would have been a choice had the U.S. version been pulling early Idol-size ratings:

“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!). Last year, for a number of reasons, I had to make a decision to return to the U.K. version of The X Factor in 2014. So for now, I’m back to the U.K. and I want to thank FOX for being an incredible partner and I also want to thank everybody who has supported my shows. America, I’ll see you soon!”

Fox entertainment chair Kevin Reilly continued his effervescent public praise for Simon, and again suggests it’s simply Simon’s decision to leave that led to the cancellation, rather than just embracing the fact that it’s a smart business decision to cancel a show that is hurting your parent company’s profits:

“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.”

Finally, in the press release, FremantleMedia’s Trish Kinane focuses on the positive, talking about how the show is “a true global hit entertainment format produced locally in 45 countries” and in the US, “has had a great run dominating the social media charts and discovering internationally successful artists.”

If only there had been ratings, too.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.