Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, Mariah Carey, AMERICAN IDOL

Michael Becker / FOX

It's the end of an era.

Mike Darnell, Fox's long-time president in charge of alternative programming, is leaving after 18 years spearheading shows like American Idol and Hell's Kitchen. So is the recent downward spiral of Idol to blame?


Despite industry speculation that his exit is tied to Idol's recent ratings downslide, sources tell E! News that Darnell was offered a new contract and has decided on his own accord to leave the network to pursue other endeavors. The timing of his exit is simply because Darnell's contract is up in June, we are told. The Wrap reports that Darnell will be repped by WME talent agency in his new pursuits. And Darnell himself has released the following statement:

"I'm extremely grateful that FOX has offered me a new long term contract (and anyone who knows me won't believe I'm saying this), but I've decided it's time for a change," Darnell said in a release sent to the press. "With my current deal ending in June, and having been here for 18 years (kind of a record in Hollywood), I had to make a decision: either stay (and basically admit to myself I was going to retire at FOX...not a terrible choice) or leave and try something new.  I've been in ‘Reality' since before it was even called that, and it has truly been an amazing ride.  However, the world has changed drastically over the last few years and now with hundreds of channels and limitless ways to watch television, I've decided this was the perfect time to take advantage of the rapidly changing marketplace."

Fox, meanwhile, is moving forward with a savvy idea to bring back Idol viewers: As we first reported earlier today, Jennifer Hudson has signed on as a new judge, as part of an Idol alum panel that likely will include Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert. Idol, Fox's top show, has lost about 10 million viewers over the past two years.

No word yet on who will replace Darnell.

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