By Kim Masters, The Daily Beast
American Idol's kookiest judge says she's leaving the show after eight seasons. But Kim Masters says even Paula Abdul's not crazy enough to walk away from millions of dollars—and fans.
Don't believe it yet.
The press has been full of "Paula leaving Idol" reports. Supposedly talks broke down after Fox offered Abdul a 30 percent raise that left the erratic American Idol judge unsatisfied. That still wouldn't have put her in Ryan Seacrest territory—he just signed a three-year deal worth $45 million. But Paula's deal is still worth millions. (According to the Los Angeles Times, she was getting around $4 million a year, initially asked for a raise to $20 million and dialed back to $12 million.)
Even without a massive raise, there are millions of dollars at stake. Paula Abdul is going to walk away from that kind of money? She isn't that crazy.
She does have a new manager, David Sonenberg, though, who presumably blew smoke up her skirt about her value to the show and, "If Ryan Seacrest is worth that then you must at least be worth this." So now he's trying to deliver. But remember when Alex Rodriguez re-signed with the Yankees in 2007? (His agent said he wouldn't renew his contract and the team wished him well. Eventually A-Rod put out a statement on his website saying that he wanted to come back.)
Note the language of Fox's statement, which was not an unequivocal, "Abdul is not returning," but a door-ajar "saddened that she has decided not to return."
And isn't the timing just slightly suspicious? Thursday morning, Fox has its turn at the annual gathering of television critics in Pasadena. So with all the television writers gathered in one place, Fox kicks off the day with a question-and-answer session on So You Think You Can Dance and a panel that includes former Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe. What do you suppose the critics will ask him about? After that there's a similar session with top network executives. Abdul tweeted about leaving the show just in time to make sure that Fox executives get peppered with questions in person by an army of journalists. But it's a win-win because Fox, too, can milk this dustup for all its worth.
Skepticism in Hollywood is running high. I emailed one top agent asking: "Paula: kabuki?"
"Yeah, just stupid," he replied.
"Sounds like a negotiation to me," said a top man at a rival network. "She reconsiders and does it for her fans."
An executive close to the situation allows that Abdul could come crawling back. And then, he observes, there's the Cowell factor. Simon has not spoken (publicly) and as any Idol fan knows, his opinion is the only one that counts.
American Idol is going into its ninth season—perhaps with softer ratings but still by far the top show on television. Abdul either provides heart or functions as the dotty aunt at the family picnic, depending on your point of view. But messing with the mysterious chemistry of a hit show is risky business.
I am slightly cowed by the fact that Richard Rushfield, the Los Angeles Times reporter whose beat is Idol, thinks this is for real. (But only a little.) I predict a deal is struck at $10 million.
Kim Masters covers the entertainment business for The Daily Beast. She is also the host of The Business, public radio's weekly program about the business of show business. She is also the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.
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