Press Tour: FOX’s president on Tuesday comedies, ‘Glee,’ edginess & more

Senior Television Writer
01.08.13 13 Comments

It’s been a Freaky Friday week here at press tour. On Sunday, NBC made its first tour appearance in years where it had ratings numbers to brag about, which network boss Robert Greenblatt did at some length. FOX, meanwhile, is likely about to see the end of a long streak of being the first place network on television among adults 18-49, thanks to a dismal fall in which “X Factor” dipped, the Tuesday comedy bloc couldn’t get off the ground, and “Mob Doctor”(*) would have been canceled after two weeks if FOX had anything on the bench to replace it with. So this time it was FOX entertainment president Kevin Reilly who wasted no time with prepared remarks, saying, “Nobody’s happier than us to get ourselves into a fresh year” before opening it up to reporters’ questions within the first 30 seconds of hie executive session.

(*) In the post-executive session scrum, Reilly called “Mob Doctor” “the worst title in the history of the world.” Shawn Ryan and the rest of the gang from “Terriers” might beg to differ.

Fienberg has a thorough play by play of what was said in his live-blog, so I’m just going to touch on a few interesting themes and tidbits from both the panel and the scrum afterwards.

I don’t like Tuesdays: “Of all the frustrations we had in the fall, our Tuesday comedy bloc was probably the biggest one, because I believe in those shows,” Reilly said. Later, he acknowledged that in retrospect, he should have focused more on protecting the return of “New Girl,” which started off strong last fall before fading significantly in the ratings by the end of its first season.

“I still would’ve gone with those comedies,” he said in the scrum, “but I would’ve really promoted ‘New Girl’ – solely ‘New Girl’ – rather than a bloc, because they didn’t know the other shows, and we needed ‘New Girl’ to be even stronger and more of a destination, and I think that suffered by being lumped in with other shows they didn’t quite know.”

For now, he said, “we’ve jut gotta play through” – meaning no radical changes to the bloc (it sounds like “Goodwin Games” is going to be held for summer, because he doesn’t think it would be enough of a hit to merit the scheduling disruption) for the rest of this season, before regrouping for next fall. Whether anything other than “New Girl” will survive to next fall remains an open question.

Let FOX be FOX: Reilly, who was at the helm of FX back when “The Shield” debuted, said, “It is a goal of mine to put a little of the FOX back in FOX. Before there was cable, FOX was cable. We were the edge of what was bold.” In recent years, thanks in part to the success of “American Idol,” FOX has gone for broader-appeal series like “Bones” – which is a good show but would fit comfortably on other networks in a way that many of the classic FOX hits wouldn’t – rather than experiment, and that lack of boldness seems to have caught up to the network.

Reilly noted that the network used to have more male viewers than it does now (and cited the lack of those viewers as one of the big problems for the Tuesday comedies), and the goal was to try to change the gender balance, while looking for different kinds of shows in next year’s development.

“And I want to be a little louder,” he said. “That doesn’t mean crass, but the best of FOX makes noise. Some of that is being a little bolder, and a little louder. Next year, you’ll see more of that.”

Sex and violence: Unlike Kevin Williamson, creator of FOX’s upcoming serial killer drama “The Following,” Reilly was at least prepared for questions about violence on television, particularly in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. At times, that just meant he was prepared to more artfully dodge those questions – “It’s a more complex conversation,” he said at one point. “I think it trivializes to link it to television or broadcast television specifically.” – but at others, he was articulate and thoughtful in noting that a Puritan-founded country like America has always been more comfortable with fictional depictions of violence than of sex, and candid in admitting that “People like these things. We’re in the business of providing things people like.”

In the scrum, though, Reilly got testy as those questions continued, curtly answering one question by saying he was “getting tired talking about the same thing.” When another reporter asked if Reilly believed a fictional story had ever inspired anyone to kill, an incredulous Reilly said, “Really?” and turned his back on that writer.

‘Glee’ questions: Reilly said it’s “a real possibility” that he might order the next season of “Glee” early to make it possible for Oxygen to produce another season of “The Glee Project,” which can’t happen if renewal doesn’t come until May. He said he was pleased with the way the show has split its storylines between Lima and New York this season (and has given up on the idea of just doing a Rachel and Kurt spin-off). Given that even more characters would be graduating this spring, a reporter asked if the show might ever leave Lima behind altogether; Reilly said he had yet to talk to Ryan Murphy about storytelling plans beyond this season.

It’s still Britney?: Even though the arrival of Britney Spears and Demi Lovato couldn’t keep the ratings on “X Factor” from dipping over the disappointing first season, Reilly insisted that the show was better this year (Fienberg would strongly disagree), and that he’s pleased with the ratings, especially given how many hours the show airs in the fall. “It just unfortunately didn’t get to the level of expectations,” he said, and told me that despite the middling ratings and huge budget, the show still makes money for the network. So Dan’s dream of getting out of recapping the show will have to wait at least one more year.

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