‘X Factor’-‘Voice’ clash riles Cowell

This June photo shows judges (from left) L.A. Reid, Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and Simon Cowell on the set of “The X Factor.” “The Voice” and “The X Factor” are going head-to-head after NBC scheduled its “Voice” against the second-season debut of “X Factor.”

LOS ANGELES — The stakes are high, the tactics are fierce and the rhetoric is heating up.

Obama versus Romney? Nope. It’s the contest between “The Voice” and “The X Factor,” which escalated after NBC abruptly moved to pit its “Voice” against Wednesday’s second-season debut of Fox’s “X Factor.”

The two singing contests already faced a tussle over audience votes when NBC scheduled a fall cycle of “The Voice” after it proved itself as a solid spring performer.

Then, in a post-Labor Day surprise, an apparently mischievous NBC said it was expanding the show’s first week from Monday and Tuesday to include a third episode, which happens to air opposite the first hour of the “X Factor” bow at 8 p.m.-10 p.m. EDT Wednesday. Fox’s show also airs Thursday.

Suddenly, the battle of the talent shows is more interesting.

Or make that infuriating, if you’re “X Factor” creator, executive producer and judge Simon Cowell. Known for his creative critiques as an “American Idol” panelist (“You sound like a cat jumping off the Empire State Building”), he was simply blunt about NBC’s move.

Cowell took off the gloves when he told a teleconference last week that he was angry “because I think there’s a kind of gentleman’s agreement.”

The implication: Networks can slap each other around by putting dramas and comedies head-to-head, but a talent show is in a class of its own, like PBS’ “Downton Abbey” but with a record contract and hot modern blondes named Christina, Britney and Demi.

“I think it’s mean-spirited and I hope and I pray that it backfires on them, because it’s one of the best shows we’ve ever made,” Cowell said, adding that three consecutive nights of “Voice” is “too much” and viewers will choose “X Factor.”

“But I’ve learned, don’t make any predictions,” he said, tempering bravado with caution.

Spears and Lovato are “doing great,” according to Cowell. “With Britney, everybody expects there’s going to be some kind of car crash with her. But it’s not. She’s very switched on, very focused. ... She has good taste and from working with her you can understand why she’s lasted so long in the industry.