Fox announced today that Mike Darnell, President of Alternative Entertainment for the network, "votes himself out… Fox Broadcasting Company." Their words. This is pretty major news for Fox, coming in the wake of American Idol's lowest finale numbers yet, not to mention the fact that Darnell has been with the network for nearly two decades, and has played a key role in building the network's reality TV presence on network television.
From the sound of it, Darnell's decision to leave Fox was his own. Here's the statement he gave:
“I’m extremely grateful that FOX has offered me a new long term contract (and anyone who knows me won’t believe I’m saying this), but I’ve decided it’s time for a change,” said Darnell. “With my current deal ending in June, and having been here for 18 years (kind of a record in Hollywood), I had to make a decision: either stay (and basically admit to myself I was going to retire at FOX...not a terrible choice) or leave and try something new. I’ve been in ‘Reality’ since before it was even called that, and it has truly been an amazing ride. However, the world has changed drastically over the last few years and now with hundreds of channels and limitless ways to watch television, I’ve decided this was the perfect time to take advantage of the rapidly changing marketplace. To say I am going to miss everyone here and that the people at FOX are like a family to me would be the understatement of the decade. I have so many people to thank (and I will call all of you!), but first and foremost, I want to thank Kevin Reilly, Peter Rice, Chase Carey and Rupert Murdoch for all their amazing support over these many years.”
As Fox points out, Darnell joined the network in 1994 and went on to oversee the creation of a number of hit shows for the network, including the development of American Idol, as well as The X Factor, So You Think You Can Dance, Masterchef and Hell's Kitchen. On the scripted side, he's also linked to Family Guy and Futurama. Suffice to say, he's had a hand in some vital programming at Fox over the years. And from his own words, it sounds like he's looking to pursue other opportunities and "take advantage of the rapidly changing marketplace." Whether or not he has anything specific in mind in that regard, remains to be seen. But it'll be interesting to see what his plan is in his post-Fox career.
In the meantime, his departure is one more big shift for Fox's reality TV programming, following word that some major changes may be in store for American Idol. On the subject of Idol, Deadline shared Ryan Seacrest's response to Darnell's departure, which indicates plans to work with Darnell in the future. Seacrest called Darnell a pioneer, going on to say, "He brilliantly paved the way for all of us, creating a powerful entertainment genre that audiences can’t get enough of. I’ve had the privilege of working with him for more than a decade, and I’ve learned so much from him. He has been an inspiration for imparting his creative genius constantly, a mentor as I launched my production company, as well as a dear friend. I’m excited to work with him as he blazes a new path in his incredible career."
What does Darnell's exit mean for Fox, or more specifically, Idol? THR quotes Darnell as stating outright that his decision to leave wasn't about Idol. Be that as it may, it could still impact the future of the show. The Los Angeles Times questions whether his departure means the beginning of the end for Idol. We could probably argue that the "beginning of the end" for Idol happened a few seasons ago. But this could be the last straw for the once hugely-popular, now moderately-popular singing competition. Or it's merely another sign of the changing times. We'll see how things go for Fox as they push forward.