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Fox wants 2nd ‘Idol’

Cowell expected back for early '03 debut

Fox is close to sealing a deal with FremantleMedia and 19 Television for a sequel to this summer’s hit reality skein “American Idol: The Search for a Superstar.”

Network hopes to produce a second installment of “American Idol” in time for a January or February bow. Insiders expect surly Brit judge Simon Cowell to return; it’s unclear whether fellow judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, as well as hosts Brian Dunkleman and Ryan Seacrest, will also be back.

“Idol,” which premiered June 11, follows wannabe pop stars and the judges that mercilessly critique them. Contestants are eliminated via viewer phone calls in shows leading up to a two-hour finale on Sept. 4, when the American Idol is crowned and handed a recording contract.

19’s Simon Fuller exec produces the skein, along with Cecile Frot-Coutaz and Simon Jones.

Fox would likely maintain the show’s two-episode-per-week schedule but extend the number of segs that focus on “American Idol’s” early audition process. The U.S. edition jumped to the actual competition quicker than the U.K.’s “Pop Idol,” which originated the format.

But Cowell, a BMG Records exec, has become a household name thanks to his evisceration of horrible wannabe singers early in the show’s elimination process. Cowell’s put-downs and crass remarks became so popular that “Idol” still repeats clips from those early segs on occasion.

“American Idol” has kept the lights on at Fox this summer, averaging a strong 5.0 rating/15 share in adults 18-49 on Tuesday nights and 4.5/13 on Wednesday nights. Overall, the hyper talent contest has attracted an average of 9.8 million viewers over six weeks.

Tuesday’s seg, which included performances by the show’s top 10 finalists, attracted more than 8 million calls from viewers. According to Fox, AT&T reported it as the phone carrier’s third busiest day ever.

“American Idol” has also served as a marketing tool for its two major sponsors, Coca-Cola and Ford, which have seamlessly woven their messages into the show through segments such as “Coca-Cola Moments.”

Besides the U.K., Fremantle and 19 have sold the format in Poland and South Africa. Negotiations are ongoing for a second season of “Pop Idol” in Britain.

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