Mike Darnell on Fox Exit: 'It Wasn't About 'Idol'
Mike Darnell Takes Big Job at Warner Bros. Television (Exclusive)
The late Friday press release announcing that Fox alternative programming chief Mike Darnell is vacating his post after 18 years with the company came as a shock to TV industry observers -- and fittingly so considering he was among the pioneers of the reality genre with such shows as When Animals Attack! and World's Scariest Police Chases. The bulk of Darnell's unscripted career, however, was linked to Gordon Ramsay (Hell's Kitchen, Masterchef and Kitchen Nightmares) and American Idol -- the show he helped launch in 2002 and grow into a multi-billion dollar brand, and later, the series that kept him up at night.
Still, Darnell insists, the decision "wasn't about Idol," telling The Hollywood Reporter, "This was a personal choice. Four years ago, Idol was doing a 25- to 30-share and I was still very close to leaving. I've been here 18 years! It's not quitting, it's a decision to move that's really not about the shows. I love all those shows and I'm going to miss those people."
And judging by reaction to the news, even on a holiday weekend, it seems Darnell will be missed as well. Said Idol host and reality mogul Ryan Seacrest in a statement: "Mike Darnell was a pioneer in reality television. He brilliantly paved the way for all of us, creating a powerful entertainment genre that audiences can't get enough of. I've had the privilege of working with him for more than a decade, and I've learned so much from him. He has been an inspiration for imparting his creative genius constantly, a mentor as I launched my production company, as well as a dear friend. I'm excited to work with him as he blazes a new path in his incredible career."
It was a sentiment echoed by Simon Cowell, who wrote: "I have so much to be grateful to Mike Darnell for. He was one of our biggest supporters at Fox right at the beginning when we launched Idol. His knowledge, skill, kindness and importantly the fact that we became friends through this process were all reasons why we were able to make things happen in such a big way. I will miss him. Publicly I want to tell Mike: 'A big 'thank you for everything you have done for me and I hope (and expect!) that we will be working together again in the very near future.'"
So where will he head next? The reality boss is carefully considering his options, as he told THR in an interview two hours after his exit was announced.
The Hollywood Reporter: Your announcement noted that your contract with Fox was expiring in June. How long did you deliberate this decision?
Mike Darnell: For a couple months -- and that was excruciating. I considered it four or five years ago. It was a big decision and I got pretty close last time. I love this company; it's part of my family and I feel like I'm part of the fabric of it. No one else has ever done this job so that's weird to think of someone else doing this job. ... The Gordon Ramsays and the Simon Cowells and the Ryan Seacrests -- they're all friends of mine, so that part's weird. But ultimately, it was either make the move now or retire here. I had to make that decision, and I felt like if I was ever going to give it a try, now is the time. That's the truth. That being said, this leap is incredibly difficult for me because I'm leaving behind so much of my life.