TCA: Reilly on Fox's Fall Failures: 'No One's Happier Than Us to Turn the Page'
The always-candid entertainment chief talks Tuesday's struggling comedy block and defends 'The Following' from violence critics
By Andrea Morabito -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/8/2013 5:07:24 PMComplete Coverage: TCA Winter Press Tour 2013
Pasadena, Calif. - The always-candid Kevin Reilly, chairman of entertainment at Fox, didn't mince words when opening his executive session at the Television Critics Association winter press tour Tuesday, saying, "We kind of limped to the end of 2012, so nobody's happier than us to turn the page and get on to a fresh year where I think there's some better things to come."
This fall, Fox was down 23% with adults 18-49, though as always happens, midseason will offer a reset button when American Idol returns and NBC loses Sunday Night Football and The Voice.
"We're struggling right now because we didn't put on a big hit. When we do, this picture will look very different overnight," Reilly said.
Fox certainly hopes it has a hit in The Following, the serial killer drama starring Kevin Bacon that is the network's answer to gritty cable fare like The Walking Dead. But given the dark premise, Reilly, like its creator Kevin Williamson, was asked many times to defend the show's violence at a time when violent content is under scrutiny after recent mass shootings.
"This show adheres to our broadcast standards. We haven't pushed our standards. I think there have been more violent shows on television," Reilly said, noting that many were bad shows that came and went and were thus insignificant. "We're not competing with just Criminals Minds; I'm competing with every show on cable. That doesn't mean every show we put on we should start chasing the standards. But we must match the intensity."
On the comedy side, Reilly thought his long-desired comedy block had come to fruition this fall, but new entries Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project didn't draw large audiences and New Girl, a breakout in its rookie season, didn't keep the momentum going in season two.
"Of all the frustrations we had in the fall, our comedy block was probably my biggest one," he said. "I'm creatively very happy with what's happened in that block, but we haven't been able to deliver the ratings."
Given the chance to do it over, Reilly said he would have given more singular promotional support to New Girl rather than focus on the new shows that viewers weren't familiar with.
"It's a lot harder to get that passive sampling of a comedy," he said. "Our shows weren't rejected, they weren't even really sampled. That means that [viewers are] rolling over it on the DVR or they haven't yet discovered it."
Reilly says he will stick with the block through the season though, which will push unscheduled new comedy The Goodwin Games to later in the season, perhaps as late as summer.
"Goodwin Games is a nice show, but I'm not sure it's going to inject that block ratings-wise."
Reilly had no news on the status of next year's X Factor's judges panel, which already saw the exit of L.A. Reid, but said he would welcome the return of Britney Spears despite the fact that the pop princess failed to boost ratings of the two-year-old singing competition show.
"I actually thought it went very, very well," he said. "The ratings were a little bit higher last year, but I think it was a better show this year."
As for if Spears would be back for another season, he was less sure, saying Simon Cowell is on vacation and the two haven't yet discussed the third season. "Next year I don't know."
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