Fox Hoping It Has the X Factor to Stay on Top (Analysis)

Network will need singing shows, "Terra Nova" and comedies to keep clicking.
FOX

If Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly looked a bit more relaxed facing the nation's television critics on Friday, it's because he finally has two of his most dangerous weapons in pocket. He also seemed very confident that the mess that was Glee last year will be far more focused this season, and he's very happy about his comedy development, joking that he's said that before but this time it's true.

Now all Reilly (and Fox) needs is for all of that to work out according to plan. Which it probably won't. But he's clearly got enough of an arsenal right now to make a very strong return dash to No. 1. Whether he gets there in a smooth or bumpy fashion remains to be seen.

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The two dangerous weapons now holstered are Simon Cowell's ambitious The X Factor series and the Steven Spielberg-associated Terra Nova, both delayed ever so slightly for different reasons (though more than slightly in the case of Terra Nova). The former premieres on Sept. 21 and the latter on Sept. 26. If those take off, watch out. Because Fox routinely starts slowly in the fall and then goes all Gladiator on everybody in midseason with American Idol.

Although nobody at Fox said a word about it, you can bet they have a secret little goal in mind after winning the No. 1 title again in the 18-49 demo, and that is to also win in overall viewers, something CBS does routinely and isn't shy about saying so. Were Fox to get both, well, I'd like to be Reilly's agent when he goes for the re-up.

As for pluses in the fall, Fox has the delightful New Girl as a possible breakout hit. And there's enormous hype for the afformentioned big guns (though I believe that microscopic attention will work against Terra Nova). Fox returns last season's best freshman comedy, Raising Hope in the timeslot after New Girl.

As for the negatives, the animated series Allen Gregory is mostly a mystery because critics have only seen clips, not a full episode, and those clips haven't been particularly encouraging. I Hate My Teenage Daughter only gets one thing right -- using "hate" in the title.

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If the network wants House to have its final season be this coming one -- and there are certainly tea leaves that can be read in that direction -- then there would be more than enough time to rejuvenate the drama for a ratings-magnet exit story. Couple that with Reilly's promise that Glee will be more focused plus go back-to-basics (read: fewer big name cameos, fewer tributes, hopefully less baffling detours), then it will be more difficult to spot the weak rivets in the armor. Consistent Bones got a vote of confidence for an eighth season and even Fringe got Reilly's enthusiastic support.

Is it really that rosy? Of course not. If Terra Nova tanks, that's like burning piles of money in a public square, plus it adds embarrassment. If X Factor doesn't bust out big, bad press will follow. If X Factor (not to mention NBC's The Voice) dilutes audience interest in yet another season of Idol, there's a separate hand-wringing moment. Glee producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk may spend too much time on their American Horror Story over at sister cable channel FX (or merely expend energy getting their stories straight about the direction of Glee). On the other hand, midseason series Alcatraz has good buzz and The Finder is a Bones spin-off. Odds there are positive for both.

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In the past when Reilly has addressed the Television Critics Association, he's been a straight shooter and even one to philosophize about whe the network is in the landscape. Rarely does he boast. But you know the man is feeling confident when he comes out and says this:

"I feel like we’re sitting on a hot hand this year. You know, in this job, you kind of play what you got, and this year feels like a really potent crop," he said. "I will make an actual prediction before we start, which is I do think that FOX is going to have success in every genre next year and the potential for breakout success in those genres. I look at the course of our season, and I’ve looked at all the other competitive product, and I really like the way we’re positioned, and I can’t wait for some of these shows to get on the air."

That's a man who is relaxed, people. CBS, do you think he's boasting? Because by the sound of it, you are in his sights.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine

 

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