BY STUART LEVINE

Shockingly, the first question put to Peter Rice (below) and Kevin Reilly at Fox's morning executive session had nothing to do with moving "Fringe" to Thursday night or the dramatic finale on last season's "House."Rice

The sesh turned into an Abdul-athon, with every question trying in slightly different ways to pry info on how the Earth will barely stay on its axis now that she's left her seat at the "Idol" judges table.

Rice outwardly said he was surprised by Abdul's departure, and added the network hasn't had much time to decipher how the situation continues from here, yet with her contract expired it hardly seems realistic that there were no what-if scenarios raised as the negotiations became more exasperated in the last few months.

Rice said it was "probable" that the show would replace Abdul, but there was a "possibility" they wouldn't. With having the one-year Kara DioGuardi experiment under its belt, I'm a bit surprised about the assumption that having four judges is such a good thing.Paula

As any Tivo or DVR owner can tell you, the constant overruns by "Idol" into the 9 o'clock hour was a big problem both for the reality juggernaut itself — final performances were cut off — and the next show that would start five or seven minutes late.

Last I remember, "Idol" did just fine with three judges. And having Kara not having to compete with Paula can only be good for her — if only she can find a way to be more succinct with her comments.

Ratings-wise, a fourth judge could bring about the curiousity factor, and that's nothing to dismiss, but if what Rice and Reilly say is true — that the show is really about the new contestants and their personal journeys — then keep the focus on that.

Paula or no Paula, "Idol" will always be about underdogs, heartthrobs and what Simon says. Everything else is just a distraction. 

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