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Nigel Lythgoe may return as an executive producer of 'American Idol'

July 26, 2010 |  4:19 pm

Nigel Lythgoe
is in talks to return as an executive producer for Fox's "American Idol," according to people close to the show.

The potential return of Lythgoe, who has been busy running Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," for which he is both executive producer and a judge, is yet another sign of how much is at stake for Fox and "American Idol" next season. Simon Cowell, one of the show's judges, has left the program, and no replacement has been named yet, even though it is less than six months until the show returns.

Ratings for the musical talent show are still strong but on the decline. About 24.2 million people watched the finale last May when Lee DeWyze took the crown as the new "American Idol" over Crystal Bowersox. While any network would love that big an audience, it was about 16% off the 28.8 million who watched last year's finale. Among adults ages 18 to 49, "American Idol" was down about 10% last season.

Fox and producers Fremantle and 19 Entertainment are taking steps to try to boost viewership for "American Idol," including lowering the minimum age for contestants to 15.

Lythgoe left "American Idol' in 2008, in part, to dedicate himself to running "So You Think You Can Dance." But sources at the time said that friction with Cowell behind the scenes was the primary reason for his depature.

If Lythgoe does rejoin "American Idol," according to the sources close to the show, he would also hold on to his job with "So You Think You Can Dance." But host Ryan Seacrest would probably be the only "Idol" personality with job security. When "Idol" ended in May, Lythgoe said in interviews that he would revamp the aging show by hiring an entirely new panel of judges.

— Maria Elena Fernandez and Joe Flint

Photo: Nigel Lythgoe in May. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images.