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After the goodbye for Paula Abdul

She seems to have options -- possibly as a judge on 'So You Think You Can Dance.' How her exit affects 'American Idol' is unclear.

August 06, 2009|Joe Flint and Maria Elena Fernandez

Now that Paula Abdul has voted herself off of Fox's "American Idol" after eight years as a judge on the hit talent show, the question is whether there will be a recount or if she will seek office somewhere else.

With auditions for the ninth season of "American Idol" starting Friday in Denver, the odds of Abdul getting one of the show's judges' patented saves from the network seem long but not impossible.

But one thing was clear Wednesday: Abdul will have a future in television if her former "American Idol" boss or rival networks have anything to say about it.

Negotiations to keep her on as an "Idol" judge were testy from the get-go, although it seemed that Fox and Abdul were making headway early Tuesday, according to people close to the show. Then, late in the day, Abdul called the network and producers to tell them what she would soon reveal to the world on Twitter: "With sadness in my heart, I've decided not to return to 'Idol.' "

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, August 08, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Paula Abdul: An article in Thursday's Calendar section about Paula Abdul's departure from "American Idol" said that Abdul was known in part for her Grammy-winning hits. She has won only one Grammy, in a music video category.

Apparently, there was sadness about her pocketbook as well. According to people involved, Abdul was offered a deal valued at nearly $5 million a year, which would have been a sizable boost from her current package of close to $4 million annually.

But Abdul, who did not communicate beyond her tweets and whose manager did not return requests for comment, apparently wanted higher compensation to stay with a show that -- per her tweet -- she helped make "an international phenomenon." As known for her fragile emotional state as for her Grammy-winning hits, Abdul's final straw may have been the lucrative deal that Ryan Seacrest recently signed to remain as host.

"Anyone, like myself, who works with artists knows how insecure a lot of artists are and they do need a certain amount of cotton wall when they're being dealt with," said Nigel Lythgoe, the former executive producer of "American Idol." He said recent disclosures of the amount of money involved in Seacrest's new deal and lead judge Simon Cowell's contract talks "would have aggrieved anybody. . . . You'd want more money."

Lythgoe, who now produces "So You Think You Can Dance," said Wednesday that he'd like to hire Abdul as a judge on the Fox talent show. Abdul and Lythgoe spoke by telephone and she agreed to meet him in Las Vegas this weekend, where the final auditions of "So You Think You Can Dance's" sixth season are being taped. "If I can afford her," he half-joked.

"Dance" is produced by 19 Entertainment, the production company run by "Idol" creator and executive producer Simon Fuller.

Seacrest's three-year deal pays him $10 million a year to host, according to a regulatory filing by CKX Inc., the parent of 19 Entertainment. However, Seacrest's new deal is complex. Fox is paying Seacrest what it always paid him -- close to $5 million -- and the rest of his salary is picked up by 19 Entertainment, a source with knowledge of the pact said.

For his part, Seacrest said on his morning radio show that he was "shocked" and "bummed" by Abdul's departure. Cowell, who publicly stated a few weeks ago that he did not want to serve on the panel without Abdul, declined to comment. Randy Jackson, another "Idol" judge, told "Extra" that he "couldn't believe it."

Abdul may have found negotiations tougher this time around with a new executive team at Fox. In years past, Abdul had reached out to former Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori for comfort. Liguori, who always referred to Abdul as a "member of the Fox family," even when she was accused of sleeping with an "Idol" contestant, left the company earlier this year.

Instead, Abdul's team has been going head-to-head with Fox Networks Group Chairman and Chief Executive Tony Vinciquerra, a no-nonsense negotiator.

Although it is possible that 19 Entertainment could come to the table and pony up some additional money to keep Abdul on the judge's bench, the white knight scenario is unlikely. Fox, which faces reporters today at the press tour in Pasadena, could also reopen talks. Neither Fox nor 19 Entertainment would comment beyond Tuesday night's statement that said the show was "saddened" by her decision and wished her "the best."

Fox will have to wait until the premiere of "American Idol" to see what effect Abdul's departure will have on its most important television show, which is also a huge source of revenue for Fox parent News Corp.

Abdul, who over the years has become well known for her occasional erratic behavior on and off the set, also has a loyal fan base, many of whom took to Twitter on a "Save Paula" campaign.

Although its ratings have slowed in recent years, "American Idol" is still the No. 1 show on television and attracts overwhelming advertiser support. Last season, the program averaged more than 26 million viewers and generated almost $850 million in advertising revenue, more than any other TV show, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

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