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Fox looks beyond Abdul

Executives talk about the future of 'Idol,' relegating the former

August 07, 2009|Maria Elena Fernandez and Denise Martin

Breakups are never easy.

On Thursday, the network dumped by Paula Abdul faced the TV critics at its annual summer press tour, and one thing was clear: Fox executives move quickly through the stages of grief. Only 36 hours before the news conference, Abdul rejected Fox and "American Idol" in a thoroughly modern way -- via Twitter -- but already executives are talking about new beginnings and exciting prospects.

Industry observers -- and even "Idol" fans -- have had a tougher time, tweeting, blogging and noting that anything is possible in the Abdul universe and she could come crawling back. There is even a Save Paula campaign on Twitter.

But it's over, Fox Chairman of Entertainment Peter Rice said. Not in a haughty or mean way. Simply, definitely over. Rice seems to have clearly reached that final stage: acceptance.

"We were hoping Paula came back," Rice said. "We love Paula. She's been clearly wonderful on the show for eight years and was an important part of the 'Idol' family. There's going to be a change. It wasn't a decision we made. But now that the decision's been made, we have to look at it in a positive way. We have to look at it as an opportunity for the show to bring a different energy to it and an energy that can be entertaining for the public."

In other words, Fox and the No. 1 show in America will survive. Already, executives have lined up Katy Perry and Victoria Beckham to fill in as guest judges during the auditions, which begin filming today in Denver.

"Our intention is for guest judges to be female pop stars, female performers, female artists," Rice said. "And between now and January, we will come up with a more permanent solution on a replacement for Paula."

"Obviously, there's going to be a different dynamic," Rice said. "There's going to be a change this year. There's something exciting about that. We will be looking to bring a different element with a different energy to this season."

Abdul's emotional manner and frequent incoherence undoubtedly will be missed by some viewers of the show. After all, who will be there to beat Simon Cowell when he misbehaves?

Fox President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly is apparently over it too. If Walter Cronkite was replaced, he said, Abdul can be too.

"When shows are this successful, it's very easy to take for granted the level of producing because things seem so seamless," Reilly said. "You find the perfect mix of surprising contestants. An Adam Lambert emerges or the two Davids of last season. . . . When you've got that kind of producing, I'm not saying it's easy, you're messing with chemistry that works, but I think we're pretty confident they're going to find that."

What would that take? Another nurturing woman who wears her heart on her sleeve?

"The quality is someone with a great persona," said Mike Darnell, Fox's president of alternative programming. "Really, what she brought was her own persona. She was absolutely unique."

Abdul, who was in Atlanta on Thursday filming scenes for Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva," on which she has a recurring role, famously notified the world that she was leaving "Idol" via Twitter.

Reilly had this to say:

"Lance Armstrong was Twittering while he was riding in the Tour de France," he said. "Now that's impressive."

Too many nurses spoil the shows?

During NBC's press day Wednesday, a practical and philosophical question was raised at an afternoon panel about nurses -- namely, how many can fit on television?

Edie Falco plays a nurse on Showtime's "Nurse Jackie." And yes, Jada Pinkett Smith also plays one on TNT's "Hawthorne."

But the producers of NBC's upcoming nurse drama "Mercy" insist there's room for more. And what's more, there won't be any overlap. Not too much.

Executive producer Liz Heldens described "Mercy" as a show about "a female friendship that is really grounded in reality." The women are "rowdy, raucous and funny -- and funny together. I think the focus of our show is different from the others."

"Mercy" will be "character-driven and less science-driven," Heldens added. It's unclear whether the panelists have actually seen "Hawthorne" or "Nurse Jackie," neither of which is reliant on hospital cases as the primary source of drama.

Lloyd Braun, who is an executive producer on the show, pointed out that "Grey's Anatomy," a series he greenlighted while a programming executive at ABC, was the umpteenth medical drama to go on the air. There was a debate at the network, he said, but ultimately executives became convinced that the characters in "Grey's" were "compelling."

All that matters, Braun said, is whether audiences will connect "to these characters and these stories at this time."

And even if there is some overlap, one of the series' stars, Michelle Trachtenberg, said it's not a problem. "Yes, there is a lot of nurse stuff going on. Why not? These women are great. They are the backbone and heart of the medical field. I think audiences are interested in them as real-life people." Trachtenberg plays Chloe, one of the newer nurses at the hospital.

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maria.elena.fernandez @latimes.com

denise.martin@latimes.com

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