Iconic Reality Competition Show Canceled After 17 Years

Simon Cowell's The X Factor has seen its last days on television, at least in his native U.K. ITV confirmed earlier this week that the series is unlikely to return, ending a 17-year run. The last season of the show aired in 2018, with Cowell, Robbie Williams, Ayda Field, and Louis Tomlinson as judges. The show debuted in December 2004 and has inspired spin-offs around the world, including a short-lived U.S. edition that aired on Fox from 2011 to 2013.

Cowell planned to keep the show off the air for five years, but sources told The Sun it is "unlikely" the show will ever come back. "There are no current plans for the next series of The X Factor at this stage," a representative for ITV, the U.K. network that aired the show, told The Sun. An insider pointed out that while The X Factor continues to be a global hit, there was "no question" that the U.K. version has "become slightly stale."

"Simon remains at the top of his game and knows how to make a hit. He owns the rights to the show, and it's his call — not ITV's — whether or not he drops it," the source told The Sun. "Clearly the last thing he wants is for X Factor to fizzle out with a whimper and become a bit of a joke — especially in contrast to the show in its pomp. It is still on the back-burner and there's the option to return it in 2023, with auditions next summer, but a lot will ride on his new format Walk The Line."

While Cowell's hit series is ending, he has another in the works for ITV. Walk The Line is a six-episode series that is expected to air on Friday nights. In the show, contestants will perform for Cowell and other judges. At the end of the night, the top two singers can either take a large cash prize or stay in the competition, with the risk being they could lose the cash prize if they don't advance. "There is a lot of money at stake and the concept is fantastic — it's a bit like a musical version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" an ITV source told The Sun. "But it's a game show, not a talent show, and it's important to stress it's not being eyed as a direct replacement for The X Factor."

The decision to end The X Factor in the U.K. is not a complete surprise. Back in February 2020, even before the pandemic, Cowell and ITV confirmed there would be no season for 2020, Variety reported at the time. However, there were still plans to air the show in 2021. The X Factor has been on a major rating slide in recent years, with Cowell's recent X Factor: Celebrity and X Factor: The Band seasons failing to stop the trend.

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ITV plc managing director Kevin Lygo also hinted during the Edinburgh TV Festival last year that the show wouldn't return. "It's not definitely returning, it might return, and if it does the format will tweak," Lygo said at the time, reports Variety. "Simon controls it more than we do. When does he want it to come back, how does he want to come back? Hopefully, we can be part of it."

The X Factor launched in 2004 with Cowell, Sharon Osbourne, and Louis Walsh as the first judges. The U.K. edition helped launch the careers of One Direction, Little Mix, Leona Lewis, Olly Murs, and many others. The show inspired local editions around the world, but none were quite as successful as the original. The U.S. version even failed, running just three seasons. Cowell still appears on U.S. television regularly though, as a judge on NBC's America's Got Talent, the successful U.S. version of his Britain's Got Talent.