Fox has pulled the plug on The X Factor. The Hollywood Reporter has learned that there will be no fourth season of the singing competition.
The writing has been on the wall, given the expensive series’ significant ratings declines in the second and third years, but executive producer and star Simon Cowell had been quite vocal about negotiations to keep the show on Fox in some limited capacity.
News of X Factor’s cancelation comes the same day that U.K. broadcaster ITV announced that Cowell is returning to the original iteration of the format in fall 2014. The conflict would have kept him from functioning in anywhere near the same capacity on the U.S. version.
As NBC has seen a ratings resurgence thanks to The Voice, and Fox’s 13-seasons-old American Idol has fallen from its flagship status, The X Factor did nothing to stem reality losses for Fox. The third season saw its performance show average just a 2.2 rating among adults 18-49 and 7 million viewers. The December finale closed the season down a devastating 45 percent from the previous cycle.
Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly addressed Cowell’s talk of a retooled return earlier this year, but he said the network had yet to make a decision. “The show underperformed this year,” Reilly told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in January. “Simon himself would admit that. The ratings were not what we hoped, but this is a No. 1 brand around the world … and during that lifecycle, there’s been markets where it’s been down and had some very tough seasons, and they’ve reanimated it with producing changes and different ideas. I’ve heard some of those ideas. They are interesting. If the show were to come back, it would not be in the current format we have.”
The big move to eliminate three hours of fall programming comes on the heels of a year that saw a high-profile changing of the guard in Fox’s unscripted division. Reality chief Mike Darnell, who launched both American Idol and X Factor, departed the network last summer and is now at Warner Bros. Television. The vacancy was filled by Discovery exec Simon Andreae in October. Andreae has already made aggressive reality plans for the network, including yearlong unscripted series and “social experiment” Utopia.
“To all of us at Fox, Simon is more than one of the most prolific TV personalities of our time — he’s part of our family. A consummate showman and partner, there’s no one more passionate or creative than Simon, and we feel so fortunate to have enjoyed such a wonderful, collaborative relationship with him over the past 12 years,” Reilly said in a statement. “Unfortunately, there is no X Factor USA without Simon Cowell, but we understand and support his decision to focus on the international formats and on the next phase of his personal life. We wish him the very best, and it’s our sincere hope that we work together again soon.”
“I think that we’re going to have a very crowded marketplace,” Cowell told reporters in December. “What we have with X Factor is a huge core fan base that loves the show, but we have got to be more than that. We’re in the middle of a conversation about, ‘This is what we think the show should look like, what the fans would like,’ so my role may change, but I can’t say any more than that.”
Among the changes Cowell briefly discussed heading into the season-three finale was switching to a one-night-only format instead of the Wednesday and Thursday live shows. “It’s getting to be probably too much,” he said, acknowledging the increased competition from The Voice. “Of course we’re not happy about it, but we’re all big boys and when you run a record label and a TV company, sometimes you win and sometimes you’re in second or third place,” he noted.
Talent was an area where X Factor had some of its biggest problems. The first season of the show marked a much-hyped reunion for Cowell and his former American Idol pal Paula Abdul — but soon after the first season, Abdul was fired, along with judge Nicole Scherzinger and host Steve Jones.
Season two brought more temporary changes. Although Lovato stuck around for a second year, the addition of Britney Spears proved short-lived when her expensive hire did nothing to stem ratings losses. Incoming co-host Khloe Kardashian also didn’t make it past one season, with only Mario Lopez returning for the latest run. The third season also brought on Paulina Rubio and Kelly Rowland.
“I’ve had a fantastic time over the last 12 years, both on The X Factor and American Idol. And apart from being lucky enough to find some amazing talent on the shows, I have always had an incredible welcome from the American public (most of the time!),” Cowell said in a statement Friday. “Last year, for a number of reasons, I had to make a decision to return to the U.K. version of The X Factor in 2014. So for now, I’m back to the U.K. and I want to thank Fox for being an incredible partner and I also want to thank everybody who has supported my shows. America, I’ll see you soon!”