TCA 2012: Fox Chief on 'American Idol' Shake-Up, 'Glee's' Future and Emmy Disappointment
When Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly trotted on stage at the Television Critics Association's semi-annual press tour Monday suggesting this day be renamed Groundhog's Day, the assumption was that he'd be keeping his lips largely sealed.
But the man who has spent panels past dodging Idol-related questions was not looking to repeat history. Instead, Reilly pulled out his cell phone within seconds of sitting down and dialed his new addition to the judges' table, Mariah Carey, to help him break some news. (Had the deal been done prior to today, Reilly says Carey would have been able to join him on stage.)
With his biggest piece of news out of the way early, Reilly was able to devote the rest of his 45-minutes before the press corps fielding questions about his top-rated network's Emmy disappointments, the future of Glee (and spin-off talks) and that other singing competition show -- The X Factor -- that keeps him up at night.
Here are the highlights from Reilly's appearance:
American Idol, Take… Many
Mariah is in; Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are out. He stays mum on the rest of the panel but acknowledges that Idol’s ratings were down and a refresh was in order -- though, he insists, “Nobody was slamming doors on anyone in this process.” Going forward, Reilly seems to like producer Nigel Lythgoe’s proposal to have more of a revolving door of judges cycling through each season: “I'm afraid we will, if not every year, I think change is going to be part of the show going forward. We're 12 years old, I think we've got to keep it fresh,” he told a smaller group of reporters following the panel, noting that spending big money on name talent is a “smart investment” because they generate the kind of industry such a show demands. “Idol has always been about the discovery of talent, and we've done that every year, and that's really the most important thing. The audience wants to see some discovery of something new on the bench, so we're going to keep playing with the formula."
X Factor Reboot
No decision on a new host – or is it hosts?— for another couple of weeks, but he is bullish on new additions Britney Spears and Demi Lovato. “She’s tough. She’s seen it all and she definitely lays it on the line,” Reilly says of Spears, noting that Lovato, too, is feisty. Proof: she took on Cowell on Day One.
Some of Glee’s actors will be back full-time while others will have limited deals, reiterating what producers told fans at Comic-Con. Reilly has read the first three scripts of the season and reveals that the series will cut back and forth from small town Ohio to New York City seamlessly. But sorry Gleeks, Reilly has no plans to revisit a spin-off idea should the split-locale format prove successful. “The idea is to compact,” he says. “At one point we talked about it; I want the show to be vibrant and that's why we decided to compact it into the show itself.”
His Family Guy
Reilly acknowledges Seth MacFarlane is a busy guy, but he hopes not too busy to create another show for him. “We have no plans to do anything new in the short run … But I don’t want him straying far from the fold,” he says, failing to acknowledge the once-hopeful -- and now shelved -- Flinstones reboot. To prove that his “restless creator” is still committed to the small screen, Reilly revealed that he was on the phone with MacFarlane talking about Family Guy on his way to the Ted premiere.
Bottom line: they’re tough. His network continues to tackle the genre – more so than any of its broadcast rivals, he notes -- but it does so to mixed results. Reilly is hoping he gets some cred with the Comic-Con gang for allowing the low-rated Fringe to have its swan song this season. And he’s not giving up on them just yet, particularly since they fit the “bold,” “expect the unexpected” brand viewers have come to identify with Fox.
Sure, Reilly is a fan of many of the cable series nominated for best drama last week, but hits they are not -- not even on cable. And while it might sound a bit like sour grapes, his point is simply that broadcast is different business. Not that he’s giving up. "I don’t like having no shows there," he says, adding that he predicts his network will have a drama in the race next year. He throws out The Following, a midseason horror thriller starring Kevin Bacon, and Kiefer Sutherland’s Touch as potential options.
That his network can beat its chest over summer ratings that are largely flat speaks to the predicament network TV is in. And it has found itself there care of a significant shift in viewing options and habits that has led repeats to lose much of their value. “This business was built on a mix of repeats and originals, and now repeats have less value than ever before,” he says, adding that he continues to tweak formulas with shorter seasons, new nights and different times of the year.
Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose