When "American Idol" starts rolling in early 2009, its unseen puppet master will not be working behind the scenes for the first time since the show's launch in 2002.
Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe has confirmed that he is leaving his "AI" gig to accommodate a challenging international travel schedule to promote locals versions of his other hit show, "So You Think You Can Dance," on which the jovial Brit serves as a judge and producer.
"Due to the huge success of 'Dance,' my summer will be taken up by travels to South Africa, Australia and Canada to work on local versions of the show," Lythgoe said in a statement, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "I will step back from my day-to-day producing work on 'American Idol' and will be devoting my time to a new venture with Simon Fuller."
Lythgoe, who is often seen sitting just behind the "Idol" judges during the show, did not specify what the new venture with fellow "Idol" and "Dance" producer Fuller would be, but there was speculation that Lythgoe might step down as president of 19 Entertainment, the company that co-produces "Idol."
"I've worked with Nigel for over 10 years, and he is the best producer I have ever worked with," Fuller said in the statement. "We are a great team and have shared phenomenal success. Under our stewardship, 19 has grown into a formidable force, and we are now looking at developing a number of shows through a new joint venture."
Sources speculated that another executive producer, Ken Warwick, who has been with "Idol" since its inception in the U.S., will take on a bigger role, though a new executive producer might also be brought in.
Lythgoe is leaving "Idol" after a transitional season, during which the show saw its first ratings drop-off in years (though it remained the biggest hit on TV) and weathered controversy over claims that too many of the contestants had previous professional musical backgrounds.