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Published: Friday, 1/15/2010

Cowell's departure will prove to be an 'Idol' killer

Welcome to the Blade blog Culture Shock, a three-times-a-week riff by Pop Culture Editor Kirk Baird on pop culture news, events, and trends. The blog will appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings here, with the odd night or off-day posting if something is merited.

“You sing like a 3-year-old girl, you dress like LaToya Jackson, you've got a beard. The whole thing was just too weird.” Simon Cowell to a contestant on Tuesday night's American Idol.

Yes, another season of Idol, another put-down by acerbic judge Simon Cowell.

Cowell, along with former judge Paula Abdul, kept the show interesting and entertaining, especially when the contestants couldn't. Abdul had more water cooler moments, but it was Cowell who really kept people tuning in. Americans, especially when it comes to TV and sports, love to hate somebody.

And we love to hate Cowell.

Arrogant. Brash. Insufferable. Mean. And correct -- more times than most of us care to admit. So now Cowell is leaving Idol after this season, and will take over as a judge on his own Fox talent-show series, The X Factor.

I blasted Abdul for her decision this summer to leave the show, and wondered what her career would be without American Idol. Yes, it's early, but I don't feel like the show misses her.

I don't think that'll be the case when it comes to Cowell.

Idol defined the good judge-bad judge routine of reality/talent shows. And while I do think Ellen DeGeneres will be able to comfortably fit into Abdul's shoes as the good judge, I don't think there's anyone out there who can fill the shoes of Cowell as the bad judge.

The key to a good drama is to have a strong villainous presence. That's why millions were gripped by Who shot J.R.? fever in the summer of 1980. And why the best Star Trek is The Wrath of Khan.

We love our bad guys. And Cowell, at least in the context of American Idol, is the bad guy who crushes dreams and humiliates contestants, though most of them bring it on themselves. With his tell-it-like-it-is reality check for the disillusioned, lazy, and incompetent singers on the show, Cowell, for many of us, is the best thing about American Idol. Yes, his shtick may be starting to wear thin, but I can't imagine the show without him.

With Fox's bread-and-butter series showing some wear and tear in the ratings – it's not the ratings juggernaut it used to be – and trying to find a new identity post-Abdul, the best thing it had going for it was Cowell. He was the star player who could be counted on, no matter what the circumstances, to pull out the win. After this season, he's bolting Team Idol for his own show.

Where would the Colts be without Peyton Manning? Where would the Cavs be without LeBron James? Where will American Idol be without Cowell?

His exit may not lead directly to the show's demise, but it will certainly hasten it. If nothing else, he's taking the fun with him.

Good for Conan O'Brien. He stood up to the NBC brass and said, essentially, No, I won't do it. I won't agree to my being bumped back a half-hour to accommodate a new Jay Leno late-night talk show. I won't be an accomplice in your plan to ruin The Tonight Show legacy.

So now it's NBC's mess to clean up.

My feeling now is that Leno, said to be one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, won't force the issue with NBC, and instead will leave the network only to resurface a year or so later with a new late-night talk show on a rival network. If he does go to Fox, the logical choice, that would mean an 11 p.m. start time, since Fox cuts its network programming at 10 p.m., leaving its affiliates an hour to fill with local news or other programming.

If Leno were to take such a gig, assuming it would be offered to him, he would have a half-hour jump-start on the competition.

The other scenario is that O'Brien, feeling abandoned by the network that made him a household name, leaves The Tonight Show and Leno assumes his old post. Then, perhaps, O'Brien jumps to Fox.

Frankly, there hasn't been anything this exciting in late-night TV since the Leno was chosen by NBC over David Letterman as Johnny Carson's Tonight Show replacement in the early 1990s.

Some of you are probably aware of this site, but for those who aren't ...

someone reimagined the script to The Big Lebowski as a Shakespeare play.

Seriously.

An excerpt: "THE KNAVE: Let me not to the marriage of false impressions deny impediments. I am not Master Lebowski; thou art Master Lebowski. I am the Knave, called the Knave. Or His Knaveness, or mayhap Knaver, or mayhap El Knaverino, in the manner of the Spaniard, if brevity be not in thy soul nor wit. A Knave by any other name would abide just as well."

Check out the site, Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, for yourself.

Agree or disagree with a posting? Lemme know. Have a topic or suggestion? Lemme know that, too. Send an e-mail to kbaird@theblade.com

or call 419-724-6734.

LINK: For all of Kirk Baird's Culture Shock riffs



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