New Fox Entertainment chief Peter Rice spent his first big turn in the media spotlight Thursday answering a barrage of questions about Paula Abdul and "American Idol."
Rice, the veteran film executive hand-picked by Rupert Murdoch to take the reins at Fox in March, betrayed not a hint of New Guy nervousness as he calmly answered one query after another about the ongoing "Idol" crisis. His bottom line message: We’re moving on without Paula.
"It was not our choice. We wanted Paula to come back to the show," Rice said.
But while Rice said the network is "very sad that she not coming back," he made it clear "Idol" would be OK without her.
"There’s going to be a different dynamic," he said. "There’s something exciting about that."
Rice also made it clear that Fox remained optimistic that main judge Simon Cowell will extend his current deal with "Idol," a pact that has one more year left on it.
"Our expectation is that he’ll remain with the show," he said, confirming that Fox was in the middle of negotiations with Cowell.
In one of the few bits of news made at Fox’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour, Rice announced "Idol" would use guest judges during the audition rounds of the show, including pop singer Katy Perry.
Rice said it’s "probable" that "Idol" will stick with its current four-judge format. "What we need is to find someone with great chemistry (with the other judges)," he said.
There’s already been media speculation that Abdul might change her mind and ask to return to the show after all.
"I have no expectation that Paula is going to do that," Rice said. "This was not a short negotiation. I think that Paula has come to a place where she wants to leave the show, and we accept that."
Rice added that Fox had already given Abdul and other "Idol" cast members "significant" raises over the past few years. As for the most recent contract proposal, "We felt that it was a fair amount of money that we were offering."
Fox unscripted president Mike Darnell also joined in the chorus of Fox sadness over Abdul’s departure, expressing his disappointment in her decision. "It’s a family," he said.
"What she brought is her own persona," Darnell added later. "She was absolutely unique."
While Abdul dominated Rice’s session with reporters (Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly was also on stage), a few other matters also came up.
Asked about Murdoch’s declaration Wednesday that News Corp. would begin charging for online access to its news products, Rice indicated that Fox needs to be thinking about ways to get additional revenue for video streams.
"I think that’s true," Rice said when asked about the matter, expressing confidence that "we’ll find a way to monetize" its programs.
Reilly declined a chance to take a swipe at former NBC boss Ben Silverman, who ousted Reilly from his former Peacock perch.
"It’s case closed," he said.
Fox also confirmed that two unscripted shows wouldn’t be returning.
As first reported by TheWrap, "Osbournes: Reloaded" will not come back to Fox.
"It was a shot. It was fun. It didn’t really perform either way," Reilly said. "It was a fun experiment."
Reilly also said it was unlikely Fox would air shelved episodes of game show "Moment of Truth." Darnell blamed advertiser resistance for keeping the show off the air.
In development news, Reilly said Fox was "close" to picking up a new animated series, 20th Century Fox TV’s "Bob’s Burgers." It’s from "King of the Hill" writer Jim Dauterive and "Dr. Katz’s" Loren Bouchard.
Reilly said a few more scripts are in the works and a decision will come soon. "We think it looks good," he said.
With "The Simpsons" renewed for two more seasons, Reilly conceded all parties involved will need to begin discussing that show’s future again soon.