Imagine This: ‘American Idol’ Without Seacrest?

Both Fox and Ryan Seacrest say they want Seacrest to stay as host of “American Idol” after this year. Whether that will happen was unclear Sunday even as both sides promoted this month’s launch of the 11th season of the country’s most popular television show.

“It’s a tough negotiation and one that will come to conclusion, I think, pretty quickly,” Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said.

Seacrest is not signed beyond this season and is also involved in talks with corporate owners of NBC Universal, where he has a contract at E! Entertainment. There have been several reports that NBC is considering Seacrest as a potential replacement if Matt Lauer decides to leave the “Today” show.

Seacrest had little to say Sunday about the possibility of moving into a new morning job.

While such talk is “flattering,” he said, “that job will be that person’s job as long as that person wants the job.”

“American Idol” continues to be a TV steamroller. Yet network TV is in tough economic straits, and many millions of dollars are tied up in contracts with Seacrest and judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson.

As for Seacrest’s contractual status, the key word Sunday was “imagine.”

“It’s very hard to imagine the show without Ryan,” Reilly said. “We certainly want to keep him. There’s no creative discussion there whatsoever. It is a deal issue.”

Said Seacrest: “I’ve done this for the last decade. I love doing it, so I can’t imagine not being on every week.”

Added Fox alternative show chief Mike Darnell: “We love Ryan and I can’t imagine the show without him.”

The next few weeks will show whether love translates to a deal.

Darnell said that after major changes on “Idol” last year with the additions of Tyler and Lopez and some revamping of the middle weeks of the competition, this year there will be relatively minor tweaks. Two big challenges when competitors reach the Hollywood stage will be requiring them to sing some 1950s era songs, and sing with the accompaniment of only one instrument.

And a healthy rivalry seems to be building with NBC’s moderately successful new competition “The Voice,” as “Idol” panelists made a handful of snarky remarks about the other show.

“We will definitely never, ever rip off ‘Star Trek’ like ‘The Voice’ did with spinning chairs,” Jackson said.

“American Idol” returns on Jan. 18.