What Is That Sly Fox Really Up To?

Fringe - Cast - 2011
Courtesy of FOX


When Kevin Reilly, Fox’s entertainment president, calmly left the status of a lot of shows up in the air on Sunday it all seemed so surreally casual. “We’ve done a good job of avoiding some of these big decisions until after the session,” Reilly joked. If you didn’t blink hard enough you might have thought Reilly was massively unprepared to face the nation’s critics and television reporters about the status of his network.

But other than truly sharing blame for putting off a meeting with the House folks (and making the decision that might come from that meeting), it wasn’t too hard to read the leaves of what could possibly happen with Fox shows going forward.

Here’s a list of educated guesses:

  1. The House sit-down and discussion will have to happen quickly. It's the first domino. Odds are there’s an agreement to end it. Reilly assured reporters that House would never end in some half-ass manner, that it would have the exit that suits it. But he also said of the series: “Last year, we said it was going to be a close call, and probably it’s the last year, but, honestly, we just simply haven’t made the decision.” OK, so they make the decision and pull the plug.
  2. If they do that, Terra Nova is likely to return. (Yes, you could make an argument that even if House were to get one more season, Terra Nova would probably make the cut, but there was no getting around Reilly’s worry that there were too many cooks in the kitchen and what they came up with needed improvement). “The show was hunting for itself creatively through the season,” he said. And his mixed response to the show had flashes of red flags: “So we are trying to figure out, in a network that is pretty strong across the week right now, is that the best show? I mean, if we had more holes on our network, we’d be thrilled to just lock that right in.” But let’s keep the scenario in place: House exits gracefully, Terra Nova stays (and its producers get the hint: be better).
  3. Fringe’s fate is more about money at this point than ratings. Reilly and Fox want Warner Bros. to lower the fee to offset the losses Reilly says the show suffers. “The hesitation in my voice is that it’s an expensive show. We lose a lot of money on the show. At that rating on that night, it’s almost impossible for us to make money on it. That’s been the case now over the last season. We’re not in the business of losing money.” So, dead, right? Nah, it was mostly a negotiating ploy. Reilly says Fox needs to sit down “and figure out is there a number at which it makes sense, or will this be it?” Here’s a number to consider: At the end of this season, Fringe will need 13 more episodes to hit 100 and get comfortably into syndication. Everybody wins when that happens. This makes sense financially, of course, but who out there believes Fringe wraps up in a bow creatively this season? Not likely. They need more time. They also need an end game and 13 is, or should be, a nice number.
  4. The X Factor host Steve Jones. Well, Sunday wasn’t really a red letter day, unless that red was blood. The over-under on Jones returning is likely six feet under – and what is perhaps more relevant is whether Simon Cowell plans more changes beyond Jones. Bet on some house-cleaning or at least tidying on The X Factor.
  5. The executive session closed in a rush (actually, Reilly kept it going a little longer) but Reilly was determined to talk about the value of a multi-camera sitcom, like I Hate My Teenage Daughter. Except not that one (he said the remaining six or seven episodes will air – though you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of the show who cares). Reilly is determined to make multi-camera, old-school sitcoms work like CBS does. The key, he says, is to create a pack of them so one doesn’t stand out, look weird and get picked on creatively. Now, I Hate My Teenage Daughter wasn’t on the spring comedy panel the network presented – Raising Hope, New Girl and Breaking In were. What does this say? Kiss off Teenage Daughter. But more important, you can bet that Reilly is right now trying to cobble together two, possibly as many as four, multi-camera sitcoms to be announced in May for next season. “I am telling you I’m going to be determined to get back in the multi-cam thing,” Reilly said with some passion. “They are at the top of the ratings heap, and they’re the top of the syndication heap. It is a vibrant business that the audience wants to see…I’m not going to give up on the format.” Bolster Tuesdays into a real comedy block, move Glee? Hmmm. 

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine