Darnell says he had already thought about stepping down as the alternative programming president on the network four years ago.
FOX's longtime alternative programming chief Mike Darnell departs the network after 18 years. He decides not to renew his contract which will expire in June and will help with the transition for his exit.
"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," he says in a statement. "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 decided this was the perfect time to take advantage of the rapidly changing marketplace," Darnell adds. "To say I am going to miss everyone here and that the people at FOX are like a family to me would be the understatement of the decade. I have so many people to thank (and I will call all of you!), but first and foremost, I want to thank Kevin Reilly, Peter Rice, Chase Carey and Rupert Murdoch for all their amazing support over these many years."
Peter Rice, Chairman of Fox Networks Group, responds to Darnell's decision, "His passion for - and dedication to - television knows no bounds. He is like a member of the family, and FOX won't be the same without him. While we wish he would've stayed forever, we regretfully accept his decision."
Darnell helped launch such shows as "American Idol", "Hell's Kitchen" and "MasterChef" during his career. With his exit announcement coming on the heels of "Idol" ratings decline, many speculate that his move is related to the show's performance. However, Darnel says the decision "wasn't about 'Idol'."
He explains to 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."
On how he sees the future of "Idol", he wisely elaborates, " 'Idol' is a brand and a legacy. I think, like all the shows, it's suffering from a glut, it's suffering from age and it's suffering from a general perception that there's new things on. But it has that brand that makes people want to like it. So can they be saved? You have to nurture them and take a deep breath and realize that none of these shows are going be be what Idol once was -- and that includes Idol, which I think will be around for a long time."
Asked about his plan after leaving FOX, he tells TV Guide, "Everything is a 'maybe' right now. It's more about the options and what those look like. There's such a wide world now. When I started, this was it. Network television was it. But boy, is that not true anymore. Some of the biggest reality shows are on cable right now. The landscape has changed greatly. I'll stretch my fingers out and try to innovate, the way I did when I first started here."
Ryan Seacrest praises Darnell in a statement released following the announcement. "Mike Darnell was a pioneer in reality television," the "Idol" host says. "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."
Simon Cowell, who worked with Darnell during his time as "Idol" judge and reteamed later for "The X Factor (US)", adds, "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.' "