July 27, 2010 / 1:32 AM / 9 years ago

"Idol" faces big changes as former producer returns

Producer Nigel Lythgoe arrives for the finale of Season 8 of "American Idol" in Los Angeles, May 20, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Reality producer Nigel Lythgoe is returning to executive produce Fox’s “American Idol” after a two-year break — and that could spell trouble for the current judges panel.

Fox is near a deal to bring back Lythgoe to work on the hit series as part of a master plan to reboot the show following the exit of top judge Simon Cowell.

In addition, “Idol” fans can add pop star Justin Timberlake to the list of potential Cowell replacements. Timberlake, along with Elton John, is being wooed by “Idol” producer 19 Entertainment chief Simon Fuller.

Lythgoe helped launch the “Idol” phenomenon in the U.K. with “Pop Idol” along with Fuller and shepherded the U.S. version for six years. He currently produces and judges Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Two years ago, Lythgoe left “Idol” as part of a shake-up by Fox and 19 Entertainment to try to freshen the series. But ratings continued to slip, and Lythgoe has often criticized the series, saying the contestants and judges panel weren’t very compelling.

Industry rumors have been circulating for weeks that Fuller and Fox are considering not just replacing Cowell, but dumping the entire judges panel.

And the biggest public advocate of such a nuclear option is Lythgoe.

“I would replace the entire judging panel,” Lythgoe told Zap2It in April. “I don’t think it really works replacing one person.”

Pulling off such a maneuver depends on whom Fox signs as a new judge — or judges — on the show. Until such deals are closed, nobody’s fate is sealed.

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