TV Upfronts: Fox's Kevin Reilly on 'American Idol' Changes, '24' Reboot and Cable Perspective

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.

Hours before ad buyers flood into the Beacon Theatre for Fox’s upfront presentation, entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly took time to pontificate about broadcast’s ailing model and the potential changes he’s looking to make.

Of course, he couldn’t talk about what’s to come without addressing what has transpired. “We had some challenges … particularly in the fall,” Reilly acknowledged during a Monday morning conference call with reporters. His network, which is poised to cede its crown as the top-rated network to CBS, has witnessed a 20 percent freefall in the demo this past season. For what it’s worth, Fox will round out the season as the No. 1 network among the 18-to-34 demographic and can point to The Following as the season’s No. 1 new series.

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Here’s a look at what Reilly had to say:

American Idol woes: Rather than blame Idol’s latest judges’ panel for the show’s record lows, Reilly pointed a finger at the show's age as well as some of this season’s format changes (including separating the males and females for several weeks). Although he remained mum on details, he assured the press that there would be fresh twists to the format next season. What he would confirm is that veteran judge Randy Jackson will depart, which he suggested was not a “complete shock.” And to hear Reilly tell it, “there’s not an ounce of ill will either way.” As for the other judges, he only would say that the trio would be “welcome back” but “everything is still on the table.” Reilly and his team will begin conversations about next season as early as Friday morning, following the singing competition's 12th-season finale. The only hint he would offer on the judges' front is that there  “likely” will be only three judges rather than the current four.

Cable perspective: Although the former FX programming chief has not been shy about his envy for cable’s creative freedoms and lower ratings bar, Railly urged those writing about the landscape to have perspective. Worth noting, in his mind, is that basic cable still largely is propped up by network acquisitions -- “our shows,” he says -- and feature films. What’s more, the numbers that will qualify as a “hit” on basic cable often warrant cancellation on a broadcast network like Fox. To further make his case, he noted that of the 1,050 original series on basic cable, only four rank within the top 50.

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24 rebootReilly got the press’ attention with his previously leaked decision to reboot 24 as a limited event series, appropriately titled Live Another Day. While the intent is to tell a new story compressed over 12 hours, he’s not ruling out the potential for sequels. The latter falls under his 6-month-old miniseries franchise, which is focused on big-budget, close-ended series that he claims already is luring top talent in front of and behind the camera. In the case of 24, it made more sense for long-running showrunner Howard Gordon to utilize this format for a follow-up as opposed to try to shoehorn a longer arc into a two-hour movie. As for his own excitement, Reilly suggests that there hasn’t been a week that’s gone by since the show’s cancellation when he wasn’t asked whether the drama could return in some fashion.

An antiquated model: Year-end programming has been a goal of Reilly’s for years, and he insists that this season will bring Fox one big leap closer to that reality. His plan for 24, for instance, is to try to launch it with a drama series in May so that it can arc into the summer. He’d like to follow that with another event series, potentially M. Night Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines, which could arc into the summer. Similarly critical as he rethinks broadcast’s dated model: different season lengths. “There will be shows that play at 13, 15, 17 episodes. There’s no magic number,” he says, noting that he’ll take audiences on whatever platform they choose.

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