Credit: Michael Becker/Fox

With Fox’s American Idol finally coming to a close next year, industry reporters on the network’s Monday press conference call wanted to know: Why end the former mega-hit series now? Fox chairmen and CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Walden fielded several questions about their decision and the show’s final season.

“You know, it was not an easy decision,” said Newman. “American Idol has been such a vital part of Fox for its run, and we spent a lot of time talking with producers about the future of American Idol and collectively we arrived at the conclusion that it was time to bring the show to an end. But we wanted to do it in a way that felt special and celebratory and treated the show the way it deserved to be treated.”

Walden agreed it was a “pretty emotional decision,” and revealed the final season will feature appearances by former judges and contestants. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm around former judges and contestants coming back,” she said.

Added Newman: “Next year, it’s going to be a true season–long celebration. We’re already talking about surprises we can have for the fans to make it feel special and send it off [in a way] that makes it as significant as the run it’s had on our network.”

Reporters pressed on whether the executives considered, perhaps, moving the series to summer—which is where the show launched in 2002. “We really didn’t give a lot of thought to that,” Newman said. “Idol had been the No. 1 show on broadcast for eight seasons. It was a collective decision that the right way to send this show out is right in the time period it has been for the last [few] years. It still has a great deal of popularity in viewing, and we’re going to deliver a special season.”

American Idol XV will have the same judges as the last two cycles—Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr.— along with the show’s host, Ryan Seacrest, who has been with the series from the beginning.

Idol was once dubbed Fox’s Death Star, a series so popular it decimated any rival that dared to air at the same time. At the musical competition’s ratings peak in 2006, Idol drew more than an incredible 36 million viewers for its season finale. Yet ratings have fallen nearly every season since Idol’s peak. This year, Idol delivered a series-low 11.6 million viewers, and that’s including DVR playback. While Idol is pulling a higher average than some surviving shows, producing Idol isn’t cheap—there’s famous singers judging the talent, a multi-city audition tour, and live shows to produce.

One reporter asked the executives if Seacrest’s infamous first season co-host Brian Dunkleman will be included in the final season, drawing laughs from the execs.

“If you get me his number, I’ll call him!” Walden said.

The Idol verdict was announced as part of Fox revealing its fall schedule, which you can see here. The network also confirmed its list of canceled shows. Follow @jameshibberd and @natalieabrams for up-to-the-minute news breaks on the broadcast upfronts.