Ex 'American Idol' Exec It Was Time to Go

5/11/2015 12:32 PM PDT

Ex 'American Idol' Exec Nigel Lythgoe -- It Was Time to Go (VIDEO)

EXCLUSIVE

It's better to leave a little early than a little late ... so says former "American Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe ... who agrees it was time to put the legendary show to bed. 

We got Nigel in New York City ... just hours after the news broke that FOX was pulling the plug on 'AI' after one more season. 

Lythgoe -- who was EP during the show's heyday -- was a little surprised, but says bowing out now ... will actually enhance the show's legacy. Watch, his theory makes sense.

As they say in rock and roll: Better to burn out, than fade away.

Speaking of which ... Season one co-host Brian Dunkelman couldn't resist reacting to Idol's demise.