Fox's Kevin Reilly Reveals Plans to 'Bypass Pilot Season'

Kevin Reilly

"We have our heads up our ass."

The Fox Entertainment chairman, on the television industry's failure to respond to the changing behavior of viewers, including watching TV on DVRs, Netflix and Hulu.

Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly trotted onstage Monday with much to say about the state of the broadcast industry.

Before he welcomed questions from reporters gathered for the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour, he turned on an egg timer and began reeling off a series of talking points, from the state of the industry’s ratings system (broken) to his plans to blow up pilot season (broken as well).

“RIP pilot season,” he kicked off the discussion to big laughs, before turning far more serious about the necessary changes he and his executive team have been making to the development process of late. (Reilly first revealed plans to end what he described as a "welfare state" during an executive roundtable with THR this past fall.) In his bid to “bypass” pilot season, he has been and will continue to focus on series –rather than pilot-- orders, and do so throughout the year, noting that at this point in the season he has nine projects already in some stage of production without picking up a single pilot. Among the latter: Gracepoint (with a 10 episode order), Hieroglyph (13 episodes) and Batman origin story Gotham, which while ordered as a pilot is being prepped as a series. 

“The broadcast development system was built in different era and is highly inefficient,” he said early in the panel of the three-network era, adding of an archaic model that has allowed cable to triumph as the more desirable creative arena: “It is nothing short of a miracle that talent can still produce anything of quality in that environment. When they are competing, frankly, with a huge swath of cable that has a lot of flexibility and order pattern and flexibility in when the shows can go on, cable networks are able to course correct creatively and reshoot and recast." 

Later, the famously candid network chief explained that he still intends to order a few pilots, particularly in the comedy genre where that kind of lower-risk experimentation is critical from a chemistry perspective. But even there his plan is take the strategy he has employed with Fatrick, which Fox is producing with the intention of ordering it to series in February rather than in May. "We're spreading out the pilots," he said, "and where ever we can, we're writing multiple scripts and hiring staff so that your staff is in place during the pilot and can roll right into the episodes." (Post-panel, he revealed that his pickups will be finished by this time next week, and added that while he plans to order a batch of things for this summer or fall but may do so and then say, "You're ordered, but you're going to produce that in July or September.")   

Reilly was similarly passionate about rethinking the broadcast networks' antiquated ratings system, a topic he has been pushing for some time. Before launching into a diatribe of sorts about the need to report –and be paid for—multi-platform viewership, he acknowledged that Fox’s fall season was a “mixed bag” by traditional metrics. While veteran series like New Girl, Glee and The X Factor have taken considerable hits, newer fare like breakout Sleepy Hollow and reality competition MasterChef Jr. have generated an audience – and a renewal. (Though rookie comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine hasn't generated ratings worth touting in its first fall on the air, it became something of an awards magnet with two big wins at the Golden Globes Sunday.) 

As he did at a press gathering this summer, Reilly used the soapbox to reveal a string of stats that illustrate Fox's viewership across platforms. VOD viewership for Fox series is up 44 percent, for instance, with streaming on Hulu notching a 55 percent uptick for the network. What’s more, he continued, if multi-platform viewership could be rolled up into a single metric, Fox’s fall viewership would be up 8 percent, year over year. "The standard Nielsen measurement is unfortunately outdated," he reiterated, "it is a mere fraction of TV viewing universe."

Here are the highlights from Reilly's 40 minutes before the press:

X Factor's Future

Reilly willingly admitted that Simon Cowell's The X Factor "under-performed," noting that the ratings were not where he had hoped they'd be this past season. While no decision has been made on its future at Fox, Reilly stressed that the series is a "No. 1 brand around the world" and has experienced ups and downs during its lifecycle. Should the series return to Fox, the executive noted that it would not come back in its current format. "We'll blow through our option date and we'll make decision over the next month," Reilly said, adding that father-to-be Cowell will always be involved in some capacity with the series.

Sticking with Enlisted

Despite premiering Friday to a disappointing 0.7 in the key 18-49 demo, Reilly plans to stick with the well-reviewed freshman military comedy starring Geoff Stults through its 13-episode order. "I'm going to hang with it through the 13 and let's see where it goes on DVR," he said, defending the decision to keep it in its 9:30 p.m. Friday slot. "Tuesday night we have full-season orders on all those shows and because they're fragile in the ratings, the more disruption you have, the more you're causing audience confusion," Reilly said of a lineup that includes New Girl, The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He also used the platform to reiterate his commitment to airing first-run programming on Fridays, historically viewed as a network graveyard. 

Bones Continues

While he hasn't officially renewed the series, Reilly said negotiations are underway for an additional -- and final -- season of Bones, with executive producer Stephen Nathan taking over as showrunner while Hart Hanson focuses on newly ordered Fox drama Rainn Wilson. Following the panel, Reilly noted that next season will likely be the long-running procedural's last. 

Faith in The Mindy Project

Despite a brief mid-season hiatus, the Mindy Kailing comedy will likely be back for a third season. "I'm highly bullish on it coming back," he said, adding: "The ratings for us are not where I wish they would be. The show deserves more viewers, it is a top 20 comedy. It is highly upscale, we make money on it, it has a desirable audience and I'd like to build that audience." Reilly has been candid in the past about his frustrations about his narrow but critically praised comedy brand, and remained so Monday. As for controversial Dads, Reilly suggested the Seth MacFarlane-produced series makes him laugh, noting that the showrunners had "smoothed out the choppiness" of the early episodes.  

Brooklyn Nine-Nine to Live On 

Following its surprising wins for best comedy actor and best comedy at Sunday's Golden Globes, Reilly said the Andy Samberg starrer from Dan Goor and Mike Schur and Universal TV will likely be back for a second season. "I was before we got the Globe," Reilly said of his plans for a second season of the cop comedy. "I don't think that's going to be a big announcement; it's mostly just because of other business I have to do on other shows, but I would anticipate that show will be back."

More Sleepy Hollow

One of the fall's few breakout hits and already renewed for a second season, Reilly said the sci-fi leaning story of Ichabod Crane has the potential to do more than 13 episodes next year. He noted that the show, which requires a longer lead time than many other dramas on the air, had a demanding production process creating a more hectic production schedule than usual. For that reason, Reilly said they will begin production on season two in March -- considerably early than most fall series -- to allow producers more time to craft the series.