The big takeaway from the Fox executive session? Fox president Kevin Reilly—one of the most affable network heads around—spent just as much time avoiding work over the holidays as you did. Nearly every show that’s in danger of ending—including time-sensitive shows like House (where the producers will need time to craft a fitting end to the whole series) and Terra Nova (where the effects work needed to produce the series takes longer than most others)—hasn’t gotten any news about whether it will be back in the fall or not. The only show Reilly would confirm is dead was Allen Gregory, and that was a no-brainer. He joked at the start of the executive session about spending the whole time watching the football game going on at the same time, and, really, he probably could have.
"We've done a good job of avoiding some of these big decisions until after the session,” Reilly said of House, Terra Nova, and any retools for The X Factor, which came under heavy criticism for host Steve Jones and judge Nicole Scherzinger. That statement more or less summed up the bulk of his talk.
Still, there was some intriguing news out of the session. For one, Fox is starting up its own answer to adult swim, to run Saturday nights from 11 p.m. Eastern until 12:30 midnight. That’s a night that adult swim doesn’t program, which is why Fox targeted it, Reilly said, and the idea makes a certain amount of sense. The new programming bloc will launch in January 2013 alongside a digital channel that will provide even more avant garde animated content.
It’s not immediately clear whether the programming bloc will consist of series culled from the digital network or animated shorts put up on the digital network or what, but this is all in the very early stages. The executives hired to run the unit are Nick Weidenfeld and Hend Baghdady, both of whom have experience with this sort of outsider programming. (Weidenfeld, in particular, is an adult swim veteran of seven years.) Reilly, for his part, pointed out that adult swim would have flopped in its early days without Fox animated programming like Family Guy and Futurama to fill holes in its schedule, and he’s long seen a connection between both networks’ animated offerings.
If there was other “news” out of the panel, it hinged on the future of Fringe, and as with Robert Greenblatt’s comments about Community on Thursday, things don’t sound terribly good for the beleaguered sci-fi drama. Reilly said he was happy to have backed four seasons of the show—particularly given the Fox network’s troubled history with genre fans—and he was glad that the show had opened up a front for the network on Friday nights. But he also said it was an expensive show to produce, and it would be virtually impossible to make profitable on Friday nights or with that rating (which is not likely to improve if moved to another night this late in the show’s life). But the show is yet to be canceled, costs can be cut, and Fox execs like the series, so Reilly cautioned, “Please don’t start the letter-writing campaign. I can’t take it.”
Reilly was also pushed on the decision to bench hits Glee and New Girl for three weeks, a decision that resulted in steep ratings declines for both (though both have remained fairly consistent since returning in early November, at least in the demo). New Girl, in particular, debuted to 10.28 million viewers, looking like it might become the next Modern Family, but has fallen to a point where it consistently draws less than seven million viewers. (The show’s demo numbers remain strong, so it’s in no danger of cancellation.) Glee, for its part, is off 19 percent this year, and the dropoff is almost entirely attributable to the show’s heightened status last fall (when it was the biggest it’s ever been) and that long hiatus, which knocked it under eight million viewers and kept it there. (New Girl was already shedding viewers before the hiatus, and it’s hard to say if the now-missing viewers would have kept coming back had it aired straight through.)
Reilly and Fox made that decision to help out The X Factor, which didn’t launch as huge as the network might have liked but still led to what Reilly termed the network’s best fall in years. (A competitive World Series helped in this regard, too.) Despite never becoming a huge hit, X Factor was a solid performer for Fox, no doubt, and the network seems happy to have that continuity now, with Idol in the spring, So You Think You Can Dance in the summer, and X Factor in the fall. (Reilly also cautioned that the network’s tracking suggests Idol will be down this year but “mostly due to the fact that it's going to be an 11-year-old show.”)
In other news, Reilly said there will be no Glee spinoff—while heavily hinting that the entirety of the show’s cast will stick around next year, and the structure of next season will provide an attempt to tell some of the stories a prospective spinoff might have told. (Does this mean, in essence, two Glees, with cast crossing over between them and the network able to schedule many more episodes than it could with just one cast? Time will tell.) He also suggested that the network is actively looking to the future of its animation bloc and sees Bob’s Burgers—which will air new episodes both this spring and in spring 2013—as a pivotal piece of that new lineup. He also has hopes for Napoleon Dynamite (debuting next week) and Seth MacFarlane’s Flintstones remake (debuting in 2013) in this regard. Considering the contentious battle over the latest Simpsons renewal and the fact that something similar will likely break out the next time Family Guy’s contract is up for renewal, it’s obvious why Fox is looking to the future in this regard.
Finally, for those of you who are fans of watching programming on a DVR, Reilly suggested—with a big smile—that you’re the reason network TV is increasingly reliant on live events that need to be watched as they air (things like sports programming and singing competition shows). He also cautioned critics that as networks move back into multi-camera sitcom development, those shows have traditionally taken a while to find themselves, sometimes up to a season or two, then said, “I know some of them are just excruciatingly bad," of pilots like Work It or Whitney or How To Be A Gentleman. (Reilly insisted he wasn’t talking about his own network’s I Hate My Teenage Daughter, but c’mon, Kev. You can see why we’d think that.) "So cut 'em a little bit of slack," he concluded, and the hidden subtext was obviously that he’s read our 2 Broke Girls reviews and appreciates our special brand of madness. (Left unstated in all of this was whether the modern audience will ever be patient enough to let a multi-camera sitcom find itself, especially since many of the new ones this season have struggled in the ratings with or without adequate lead-in support.)
Fox is a network with a lot of strong, young hits, so its executive session was always going to be a little boring. But it’s amazing just how thoroughly Reilly pushed almost all news back to the May upfronts. Unless you’re an Allen Gregory fan. In which case, too bad for you and we hope you enjoy Napoleon Dynamite.