By Lynette Rice
Updated August 03, 2010 at 09:40 PM EDT

Image Credit: Stephen Lovekin/Getty ImagesFox could get more bang for its buck if it closes a deal with former American Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe to return to the show for its 10th season. A source with knowledge of the negotiations told EW that Fox has talked to Lythgoe about joining the judging panel (which reportedly already includes Jennifer Lopez) — an appropriate and obvious possibility, given that Lythgoe already serves as the main judge for So You Think You Can Dance, Fox’s summer competition show. (He also produces it.)

A Fox spokeswoman would not comment on the possibility of Lythgoe returning to the show in any capacity, which largely echoes what Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice told TV reporters on Monday in Beverly Hills. Though Rice conceded that “much of the information that has been written is accurate,” he also said that “no one has signed a deal on either side of the camera who wasn’t on the show last year.” Fox has given no specific timetable for when it will announce replacements for Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres, other than to say the judges are needed on the show by mid-September.

Lythgoe came to the United States from England in 2002 to produce American Idol and then became a producer, judge and co-creator of So You Think You Can Dance. He left Idol in 2008. Lythgoe has publicly stated that if he ever returned to Idol, he would replace the entire panel and go back to three judges.

Speculation about the future of American Idol hit a fever pitch over the last few days, after a flurry of stories hit the internet professing to know who the new panelists were. Even Rice acknowledged having read most, if not all, of the stories and seemed genuinely sorry that he didn’t have anything to reveal about the show’s future. “When we are working with the No. 1 TV show, the scrutiny is enormous,” he told reporters yesterday. “I truly wish we were going to (debut) a panel of judges and that could be a celebration for us, and we could engage with you on that, I’m sorry that is not going to happen … It’s not a fun announcement. It’s not the choice I would have made but it’s the truth as I sit here.”

He shouldn’t feel too badly: Speculation over Idol‘s 10th season has certainly boosted interest in the aging show, which took a 12 percent hit in viewers on Wednesdays (and lost 5 percent on Tuesdays) last season thanks in part to its charisma-free lineup of contestants. But will Idol’s impending changes be good for Fox—or the competition? “Anytime there is a disruption and change in fundamental elements of the show, there’s an opportunity for an accelerated decline in ratings,” opines one suit at a rival network. “Simon Cowell was integral to the show. No matter who they replace him with, there’s risk. It’s still going to be No. 1, but anytime we see time-period declines, it’s good for us.”