Veteran broadcast and cable executive Kevin Reilly talks about what he thought of Simon Cowell's ballsy "X Factor" prediction, making fixes to "Glee," the future of "The Simpsons" and the bad thing about being No. 1.
It's Sept. 21, and Kevin Reilly is coming down with something, which is understandable given his exhausting week. He launched several hours of new programming, and with the Emmy telecast under his watch, Fox's entertainment president squeezed in a triathlon -- his second this year. Despite a head cold, the veteran TV executive is beaming after the Zooey Deschanel comedy New Girl premiered to an impressive 10.3 million viewers and a 4.8 rating in the 18-to-49 demo. Reilly, 49, has programmed Fox for four years after stints at NBC, FX and Brad Grey Television. With the addition of gutsy offerings The X Factor and Terra Nova this season, and with such staples as Glee and Family Guy, Fox is poised to rank No. 1 among those younger viewers for an eighth straight season. The married father of three boys and avid environmentalist (he is active with the Nature Conservancy) sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss topics including Fox's year-round strategy for summer and whether he's second-guessing himself over Terra Nova.
What are your goals for this development season?
Live-action comedies probably top the list. Since I came back to Fox, the network has kind of lost its pulse on the comedy side. It's debatable how much brand association you have with a network, but historically, there has been higher brand association with Fox: "Oh, that's a Fox unscripted show," or, "that's a Fox drama." Fox comedy had been clear at one point, from Married … With Children to The Bernie Mac Show to Malcolm in the Middle. It really kind of lost its way, and now I finally feel like we've got the makings of getting that built again. We're going to try four comedies in March [likely to include Christian Slater's Breaking In], and it's something we want to see more of on the schedule next year. The other priority is building out the whole year.
You've been talking about year-round scheduling for some time.
Yes, and I think we have the opportunity with X Factor in the fall to finally do it. Even though we program the summer with top-rated unscripted shows, a lot of our schedule goes into repeats, and repeats have little to no value on network TV anymore. If we end up with the kind of season we think we are going to have, we really want to start extending into what essentially will look like year-round originals. We have fewer hours than other networks, and one of the high-class problems that I'm fighting right now is the general sentiment of some of the suppliers: "Oh, Fox doesn't need anything." I've been doing this a fairly long time, and I've never been at a network where you're so good you don't need anything. Whatever good news you have, you've always got two pieces of bad news looming, so we're going to use that extra shelf space of the summer to push that.
What genres will you look to play in the summer?
The exact opposite of what the prevailing wisdom has been. There's this look at the summer, by the networks in particular, that it's the time for light and cheap, as if those hours are somehow less important. Cable, where we at FX kind of blazed the trail for what cable is doing, does just the opposite: It makes a ton of noise, puts in all of its marketing efforts and makes it important, and plenty of people seem to want to watch those scripted shows over the summer. So we're going to that philosophy now.
Do you see the Netflix-type services as friend or foe?
It's both. That's the dance we're in. The very things that are providing a challenge to our system also are potentially the salvation of our business -- and theirs as well. They'd all love to have all of the product and revenue and put us out of business, and yet I think they know if they put us out of business, they are going to be right behind us.
Simon Cowell told THR that if X Factor didn't attract 20 million viewers, it would be a "disappointment."
God bless him -- that's our Simon. I don't know that we would put it in quite those same terms. But like he says all the time: Nobody goes out to win the bronze medal. Is the show capable of doing 20 million? It sure is. [The show debuted Sept. 21 with 12.5 million viewers.] I like the vibe of it, and the judges' panel feels right. As far as expectations in general this year, one of the concerns we have is that we can win and still be perceived to be failing.
I'd imagine Terra Nova falls into that category?
Yes. You hear, "It's the most expensive show in the history of the world!" The good news this year is that we're not all-in on any one show.
When do you have to make a decision about a second season of Terra Nova?
Before the first of the year, at the latest. We couldn't wait until the spring and see how everything else plays out; otherwise, we would never be able to deliver the following year.
Will you order more shows like Terra Nova that go straight to series with only 13-episode seasons, like on cable?
I don't love that model, to be honest with you. Pilots are useful. You just learn things during a pilot -- the piece of casting that just wasn't right or things about the storytelling nature. Some of what we struggled with on Terra Nova were natural growing pains you would go through on any pilot, but you're trying to change wheels while you're going 60 mph, and that's hard. I don't regret it for Terra Nova because I think it was the only viable way to do the show, and if we had a situation like that to do again, we would.
Is Charlie Sheen's Anger Management something you'd consider buying?
I don't think I'll comment on that.
Do you find yourself more involved in the note-giving process on Glee this season, given the criticism of season two?
No more than before. I have a long history with Ryan [Murphy, who worked with Reilly on FX's Nip/Tuck], and we're in great hands there. I think, frankly, some of [the backlash] was inevitable. When you are burning that hot on anything, sooner or later there's going to be the other side of it. They've acknowledged some of the issues that were there last season, and they were real. There were a lot of things they tried last season, some of which worked fantastically, others that felt like a little bit of a dead end or a dropped ball. When I get worried about a show is when people say, "I'm tired of these characters," or, "the relationships are boring." But what we've heard consistently is: "I love the core characters. Can we just get back to them?" That's what you're going to see this season.
Does it concern you that Murphy and Brad Falchuk are splitting their time between Glee and FX's American Horror Story?
They've set up two separate systems, and they're running it great. It's not conventional and it's not a quiet process, but I would work with Ryan and his team for the rest of my career and be happy to do it -- even on the days where he wants to kill me and I want to kill him.
News Corp. COO Chase Carey made headlines recently when he said the company would consider a Simpsons network. What's the latest there?
We're coming to a crossroads where we want to keep The Simpsons going, and we're in negotiations right now, but we've been sitting on a big library of episodes [that are locked into long-term syndication deals]. We're having conversations with [executive producer] Jim Brooks trying to figure out what the next chapter looks like. I certainly don't want it to be on my watch where we have to make that change.