Fox Boss Kevin Reilly: 'We All Screw Up, Just Look at My Fall'

Kevin Reilly TCA - P 2013

Kevin Reilly TCA - P 2013

Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly trotted onstage Tuesday with his usual combination of candor and charm.

“We all screw up,” he said with a shrug during his 45 minutes before the Television Critics Association at the Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, before deadpanning: “Just look at my fall.” The self-deprecating jab was warranted, given a first half of the season that saw Fox slide 24 percent in the ratings among the key 18-to-49 demographic. The Mob Doctor flat-lined, The X Factor tumbled nearly 25 percent, and his critically adored comedy block has failed to lure viewers.

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Peppered with a wide range of questions, the network vet managed to touch on everything from In Living Color's future to Britney Spears' performance to The Following's violence. Here's a look at the highlights:

Comedy’s Unfunny Reality

Reilly didn’t dance around his disappointment, calling the ratings performance of his Tuesday night comedy block -- featuring New Girl, Raising Hope, The Mindy Project and Ben & Kate -- his biggest frustration of the fall. Particularly because, creatively, he was thrilled. “Our shows weren’t rejected, they were never really sampled,” he acknowledged, noting that comedy is a genre that requires the kind of patience that the broadcast business no longer allows. Unlike dramas, which can demand a certain level of active viewing, there’s not as much “urgency to view” with comedy fare.

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Don't Hold Your Breath

The new In Living Color is kaput. Reilly noted that the iteration that his net had been working on in recent months did not meet -- much less raise -- the high bar set by the original. "It just didn't seem like it was going to reinvent the next chapter," he explained. He hasn't lost all hope for a revival, but if Fox does decide to try again, it will need to go a different route. As for The Goodwin Games, the Becki Newton comedy from the How I Met Your Mother producers, he has no immediate plans to schedule it because he doesn't see it moving the needle ratings-wise. He noted that the half-hour effort could make it to air as late as summer.

Cable Competition

Few things were more aggravating to Reilly this fall than hearing people tell him that they were binge-viewing episodes of Breaking Bad. It's no knock on the show, which he recognizes is tremendous, but rather a commentary on his growing field of competition. "The challenge is that we are competing with television," he said, referencing rival fare now on broadcast and cable. That's why his midseason effort The Following, a serial-killer drama starring Kevin Bacon, is designed to go toe-to-toe with those cable offerings in both intensity and quality. As he sees it, there's no reason a broadcast thriller can't be as captivating as the cable equivalents. "Before there was cable, Fox was cable...We were the edge of what was bold," he reminded the room, adding that he'd like to put the fox back in Fox.

Britney, Britney, Britney

Viewers might have been disappointed by Britney Spears' performance on The X Factor, but not Reilly. Asked if he wanted to see her back next season, he said he did. (Simon Cowell, however, is still on vacation.) "I think Britney did a great job...People got to know her a little bit. Maybe people were waiting for dramatic displays," he said, taking the opportunity to praise Cowell's already-renewed singing competition, which lost roughly a quarter of its audience in its rebooted second season. "It was a better show this year," he continued, suggesting that he was disappointed that L.A. Reid had opted to move on. As for NBC's decision to program The Voice against the X Factor's premiere, he cracked a smile: "It went in the file for later reference. The score will be settled at a later date."

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