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Saturday, December 3, 2011

X Factor 2011: Gary Barlow unlikely to return as Simon Cowell plans overhaul

As the X Factor’s embattled producers put the finishing touches to this weekend’s semi-final, the most senior figures on the show — including an out-of-sight but never out-of-mind Simon Cowell — are plotting how to salvage it next year.


Alarm bells are ringing at the highest levels of ITV and Cowell HQ after their once untouchable series was beaten again by arch rival Strictly Come Dancing last Saturday as ratings plummeted by three million to a four-year low.


I am reliably informed that Cowell wants a dramatic overhaul of the show, which will result in at least two of the judges being replaced.



‘He’s not happy and wants to distance himself from this series, but has no plans for it to carry on like this next year,’ reveals my source.


A so-called ‘nuclear option’ would see TV’s highest-rated programme stay off air until January 2013 to enable Cowell to ride in as the white knight once his commitments on the also under-performing U.S. version of the show are complete.


However, ITV is reluctant to move the show from the plum pre-Christmas market, where they make the most money from advertisements (yes, that’s the real reason behind the copious number of commercial breaks).


Cowell’s family have warned him not to consider commuting between the two countries to judge on both shows between September and December because it could damage his health.


Another option is a U.S./UK job swap, which would see American judge Nicole Scherzinger and presenter Steve Jones moved to the British show. Kelly Rowland, who has strong reservations about returning to the panel here, could take the former Pussycat Doll’s place across the Atlantic.


I am told the chances of Gary Barlow returning next year are ‘beyond slim’. The Take That star has made it clear he had no idea of the personal and professional toll of being involved in The X Factor. Tellingly, Cowell has not publicly backed his replacement since the live shows began.


Contrary to reports, Louis Walsh has not signed for next year’s show and is considering whether now is the right time to bow out after seven years in the job.


Tulisa is the only judge who has made it clear she wants to come back and, given her popularity among young viewers, is considered the most likely to return.


Cowell’s dream scenario is for a Cheryl Cole comeback. But members of her circle assure me she has no desire to return to the ‘X Factor circus’ and intends to focus on her music career.


No decisions will be made until after Cowell returns to the UK from his regular Christmas jaunt to Barbados — but he is said to be determined to do everything possible to ensure his cash cow does not die a slow and painful death.

Pop legend: BBC bosses decided Lulu's stint on Strictly Come Dancing had 'cheapened her reputation'


The BBC has scrapped plans to make pop legend Lulu a judge on its highly anticipated new talent show, The Voice.


The 63-year-old was being pushed by bosses at record company Universal, which will give the show’s winner a recording contract.


But Beeb executives decided her stint on Strictly Come Dancing had ‘cheapened her reputation’.


Lulu, right, had been expected to join singer Jessie J — the first to be officially announced — as the experienced judge on the show, which will launch on Saturday nights early next year. Tom Jones, original Pop Idol winner Will Young and Black Eyed Peas rapper  will.i.am are now favourites to be on the panel.


The show has already been a hit in the U.S. and throughout Europe because the celebrity judges hear the contestants’ auditions, but do not see them because their backs are turned.


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Ignoring criticism of unrealistic plots and rushed scripts, ITV bosses are confident Downton Abbey will become an on-going series with an annual Christmas special.


The drama has been commissioned for a third season, but that is far from the end.


An ITV source explains: ‘Downton is our biggest drama franchise. People complained the quality went down in the second series, but viewers disagreed.


We want another Christmas special next year and are planning for a fourth series in 2013.’


The third series can’t leap too far ahead in time because a chief attraction is Dame Maggie Smith, as the elderly but acid-tongued Dowager Countess of Grantham.


This year’s Downton Christmas episode is predicted to become one of ITV’s most-watched festive broadcasts in years, even though it looks likely to be scheduled against EastEnders on BBC1.


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Despite having the oldest cast in the history of I’m A Celebrity .?.?. Get Me Out Of Here, it will take a major shock to stop 24-year-old Mark Wright from winning the enduring jungle reality series tomorrow night.


ITV has big plans for the former star of the fly-on-the-wall series The Only Way Is Essex, believing he could become a popular TV personality and presenter in his own right.


Sensibly, Mark has signed with agent Jonathan Shalit, who transformed Myleene Klass into one of the country’s most in-demand TV presenters following her appearance on the show.



ITV bosses appear to be sending a not-so-subtle message to former Spice Girl turned Dancing On Ice judge Emma Bunton, right.


Executives have not returned calls from her agents, who want to find out if she is required for the new series of the celebrity skating show, which starts within weeks. Negotiations have already begun with Jason Gardiner — the show’s controversial but compelling hate figure — but a deal still hasn’t been signed.


After the ratings tumble resulting from the changes to the X Factor judging panel, in my opinion ITV should stick to the tried and tested.


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Strictly Come Dancing favourite Harry Judd is doing all he can to avoid any claims of special treatment on the BBC series.


He has deliberately avoided speaking away from the cameras to judge Alesha Dixon, whom he previously met during his music career as drummer of band McFly, because of whispers she was giving him favourable treatment when awarding marks.


‘I have made sure I don’t speak to Alesha backstage because of that,’ he says.


‘I’ve spoken to Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood in the bar after the show, but not her.’

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