Fox is playing it for laughs

Reilly says net has 'commitment' to comedy; 'Fringe' likely to return

Fox is rebooting comedy. The network, whose sole live-action comedy " 'Til Death" recently was renewed for another season, is aggressively developing filmed half-hours and plans to greenlight five comedy pilots in the next week, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly said Tuesday during the network's portion of the TCA winter press tour.

"We're doubling down our commitment to comedy" with animated shows, "and we're rebuilding our live-action comedy brand," Reilly said.

In addition to the comedy pilots, O'Reilly said he will order at least five drama pilots. Also in contention for fall will be a reshot version of the sci-fi comedy "Boldly Going Nowhere," originally developed for midseason, and "Virtuality," as Ron Moore's pilot is being overhauled.

"It could air as is and a certain segment of the audience would flip for it," he said of sci-fi drama "Virtuality." "But it's a little dense."

Reilly also confirmed that this is the final season for "Prison Break." In addition to the remaining four episodes, there's a possibility a couple more episodes could be shot.

"The show is just played out," Reilly said. "Creatively, everybody feels enough stories have been told. … We want to finish strong and not just gimp out next season. They have a cool ending."

Reilly also hinted that J.J. Abrams' sci-fi thriller "Fringe" will be back for another season.

"I already know 'Fringe' is a keeper," he said of the show, which soon will benefit from a lead-in from "American Idol." "The show's been a bear creatively because it's been very ambitious. They've really found the storytelling model now. … I would not expect it to take off after 'Idol,' but I do think it will tick up another level."

"Fringe" has benefited from a new programming model, RemoteFreeTV, where advertisers pay a premium to sponsor the show in exchange for half as many commercials. Reilly characterized the experiment as a success but was unsure if the network would be able to persuade advertisers to do it again.

"Viewer feedback was great, advertisers were very happy, studies showed retention was high ... but not every advertiser wants to pay that premium," he said.

On the reality front, Reilly expressed optimism for the upcoming Osbourne family variety show ("You're not going to mistake that for six other shows on the air") and said that controversial game show "Moment of Truth" will return.

"We have it as a tool when we need it over the summer or to fill a time period," Reilly said. "We have a season of them on the shelf … but I think it will come back on the air at some point."

Critics also asked Reilly about his broadcast competition. He offered praise of CBS for its ability to maintain its ratings and even grow some shows this season.

"I give CBS credit," he said. "I think one of the best stories of the year is some of the growth they're not only seeing in stability, but 'How I Met Your Mother' actually growing this season … and maintaining that (comedy) block.' "

As for his former network, he joked that NBC is "like the crazy ex-wife I can't get away from."

Reilly described NBC putting Jay Leno into 10 p.m. instead of developing more scripted series as "a smart strategic move in a very, very troubled place," yet he noted that given the network's difficulty in launching scripted shows at 8 p.m., that will leave very little workable space for new dramas and comedies.

"That's a little bit of a sad statement," he said. (partialdiff)