We've Got Hollywood Covered

EXCLUSIVE: Q&A With Fox’s Mike Darnell on Simon’s Shocker

Plus: Why Mark Burnett is paying the full cost for new episodes of ”Our Little Genius“

Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly were on the stage when Simon Cowell dropped his "Idol" bombshell. But it’s Mike Darnell, the president of Fox alternative entertainment, who will be front and center in all that comes next.

He spoke to TV MoJoe immediately after Cowell’s appearance, revealing his true thoughts on Cowell’s moves, the prospect of Paula Abdul returning to Fox — and the controversy over "Our Little Genius."

Here’s our Q&A:

So did Simon force you to take a chance here? Fox really wanted to keep "Idol" the only music competition series on its air.

To be honest, we’re really excited to have "X Factor." It’s SImon’s baby. We’re thrilled to have both, and we’re hoping we can make both work in their own way. It’s sad to see Simon go from "Idol," but it’s great to have him in another show.

So why did he do this? Did he just want to leave on top? Did he want to have his own show?

I think he’s just very excited to do something new, and to do this show that’s his baby. He loves "American Idol," but it’s hard to do both, and keep up with the stuff in England. So making a choice, he chose to go with a show he’s nurtured and loves.

If you knew "X" was going to end up here, and that Simon was going to leave "Idol," would you still have let Paula Abdul walk away?

We did not know that. It was not part of our decision. And we wanted her to stay.

So would you have any objections if Simon did sign Paula?

I haven’t really thought about it. It’s so hypothetical, I just don’t have an opinion on it. It’s so early. We’re a year and a half away. We have not had those discussions.

Fox really resisted the idea of "X Factor" for a long time. You liked that there was "Idol," and only "Idol."

It was always like a Miss America. It was nice to have one winner of one competition each year.

But there’s an upside to "X Factor"….

Right. The whole goal is, if we’re lucky here, we can achieve something we thought was dead in this country — which is another huge smash hit television show. And if all three of these shows work — "X Factor," "So You Think You Can Dance," "Idol" — we’ll have no blank spaces in our schedule throughout the year.

So "Dance" will be on in the summer now?

It looks like summer. It’s not 100 percent. But it looks like summer.

(Another reporter brings up "Our Little Genius" and asks what happened.)

There was certain information that was related in a way Mark [Burnett] found worrisome. It was not egregious. But Mark felt like this was his show and he wanted to be beyond reproach. Like my mother would say, a little Jewish phrase here, kina hora to him.

He’s offered to redo the show on his dime, which is amazing, to be frank. How can we fight that?

(Back to TV MoJoe.)

Were Fox execs on the show asking producers on the set to do things a certain way, and then Burnett objected?

No. Absolutely not. This was something he discovered when doing post on the show. He didn’t bring it to our attention until last Monday.

So Fox knew about this so-called irregularity, but didn’t object?

Incorrect. It’s a debatable point because it’s modest. But we had no idea it existed as a problem.

Back to "X Factor." You now have to oversee two giant shows. How will you keep up?

That’s true. We’ll just work really, really hard.

In your heart, are you excited about this? Nervous?

Oh, I’m excited. It gives us a chance to really grow something here, which is to have the chance to do something new and have another No. 1 show in the fall. The opportunity for this is amazing.

When did you really know Simon might do this?

We’ve been talking forever. But it’s been a very long process trying to figure out what he wanted to do. It was complicated because there was a lot to it — when to launch "X Factor," if he would leave "Idol." We’ve been talking about it for months, but he’s serious about it happening at 11:30 today.

Did Simon make the decision you would’ve made?

(Laughs). I’m not going to get into that.