Although it's still unclear who will be the "American Idol" judges next season, two major behind-the-scenes changes are underway for Fox's aging hit show, The Times has learned.
After two years away, Nigel Lythgoe is returning to run the talent show that he helped make a huge hit. Lythgoe, who also is a judge and executive producer on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," will manage "American Idol" with executive producer Ken Warwick, according to two sources close to the show.
Lythgoe's return is expected to usher in sweeping changes on television's most popular series, most notably at the judge's table, which will be without Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres next season. Lythgoe left "American Idol" in 2008, in part to focus on the dance show, but sources at the time said that friction with Cowell behind the scenes was the primary reason for his departure.
Also taking a role on "American Idol" will be renowned music producer Jimmy Iovine, co-founder of Interscope Records, who over the years has worked with Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Eminem. Iovine will be a central figure on "American Idol" next season, according to a person close to the show.
The addition of Iovine comes in the wake of "American Idol" dropping its record deal with Sony Music in favor of Universal Music Group, where Iovine oversees its Interscope Geffen A&M label.
Since leaving "American Idol," Lythgoe has been openly critical of the talent competition. When Fox allowed former judge Paula Abdul to depart over a salary dispute, Lythgoe criticized the network and producers, adding that the show had lost its "heart." After the show's lackluster ninth season ended in May, Lythgoe said he thought the show needed a makeover on the judge's table.
Lythgoe was unavailable for comment for this article.
With Cowell and DeGeneres officially gone, and Kara DioGuardi reportedly out of a job, it looks as though Lythgoe will have his way. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are negotiating deals to sit at the table with Randy Jackson, according to sources and a person close to Tyler.
Tyler has confirmed his interest publicly, but officials at Fox and the producers FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment have steadfastly declined comment.
Many "Idol" watchers have traced the flurry of activity to Lythgoe, who is thought to have been pulling strings in recent days even though his return could not be confirmed.