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Fox trotted out its entertainment chief Kevin Reilly at the Television Critics Association winter press tour Sunday with few answers.
The fate of new entry Terra Nova along with longer-running efforts Fringe, House and Bones remains unclear, with Reilly dragging his feet until he can get a better sense of what his development product offers.
With a particularly strong fall that had Fox tied with CBS for No. 1 in the advertiser-coveted 18 to 49 demographic behind him, he suggested that none of these decisions would made in a vacuum nor would any one make or break his network.
In fact, in his thirty-plus minutes before a headline-hungry press corp, Reilly offered little by way of concrete news outside of future of animated freshman Allen Gregory (officially canceled) and a once-buzzed about Glee spinoff (not happening).
Here are the highlights from Reilly’s appearance Sunday morning:
Reilly waxed poetic about the show’s gorgeous Australian setting as well as its stellar cast. As for its content? “Creatively it was hunting,” he said of a season that he later revealed he wished was more “consistent.” He added, “It was an exciting bet to take and I think it has proven that it was worthwhile.” What’s more, he noted, the network and the studio made money on the series, which sold particularly well overseas. As for a decision of the dino-drama’s future, he acknowledges he can’t drag his feet for too much longer given the complex production commitment that such a special effect-heavy show requires. “There’s a show there to bring back; there’s an audience for it to service.”
The Fox topper set out to whet the media’s appetite with a morsel of Glee news. “There will not be a Glee spinoff… but [Ryan Murphy and his team have] an interesting idea that I think is going to give us something cool to dig into for next season,” he said, adding that star Lea Michele would remain with the music series as it moves into its fourth season in the fall. As for the ratings dip –the show is down 19 percent this season– he faults a three-week hiatus earlier in the season rather than the creative arc of the show.
Reilly is the first to admit he’s been avoiding making a decision on this one, acknowledging that its hard to imagine Fox without House. What he did reveal, beyond the fact that the series is not cheap to continue: “If it is the last year, it won’t be an unceremonious finish [for the series].” As for past talk of a spin-off, that idea is a thing of the past. “David [Shore] just never found anything creatively that excited him,” Reilly noted.
Fox’s entertainment chief and self-proclaimed Fringe fanatic was candid as he could be about the health of the JJ Abram’s ratings challenged darling. After calling the effort “a point of pride,” Reilly acknowledged that they “lose a lot of money on that show. At that rating, on that night [Fridays], it’s impossible to make money… and we’re not in the business of losing money.” Still, he insists no decision has been made and urges fans to refrain from the launching a letter writing campaign just yet.
Reilly attempted to lower ratings expectations for American Idol, citing the age –11 seasons– of the show. As for its host Ryan Seacrest, whose contract is set to expire after the upcoming season, Reilly is hopeful that he will remain: “It’s very hard to imagine the show without Ryan,” he said, before stating that the rest is “a deal issue” and that there is “a tough negotiation” ahead.
Since the producers have not met with Fox to discuss what did and didn’t work on the competition show’s first season, Reilly was hesitant to offer too much of his own thoughts. What he would reveal is that there would be tweaks when the Simon Cowell spectacle returns next season and that the role of host –which X Factor’s Steve Jones has done to mixed reviews– is significantly harder than it looks.
Despite past failures, Reilly is not willing to give up on multi-camera comedy. In fact, he used the platform Sunday to urge critics to recognize the difficulty of launching multi-cam shows, even reminding his audience that rival CBS’ Big Bang Theory didn’t start off as a big bang among critics or viewers. As he sees it, its particularly difficult to launch one of these shows out of context, or without a pair to sit beside it on the network schedule.
Reilly knows where his bread is buttered. “Primetime animation has been an enormous part of our legacy, our brand and our business,” he said in making the announcement that Fox is launching a new animation unit and late night animated block. In a conversation with reporters following his panel, he suggested that this likely will be both a business and an incubator, with the Saturday block featuring both 11 minute and 22 minute programs. As he sees it, this is a way for his network to seed new content for future generations without losing hugely lucrative veterans like The Simpsons and Family Guy.
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