Fox‘s entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly opened the network’s executive session with a slide presentation that mixed a passionate defense of the broadcast business and frustration with how success has been portrayed on cable vs. broadcast. He started off with the “good news”, that “TV consumption is up” before talking about the increasing portion of the audience who watch shows on demand and online, sometimes up to a third of a show’s viewership, that remains uncounted for. Ditto for the increasing share of viewers who watch an episode of a show beyond the three days after the premiere that the advertisers pay for. There is even a lot of “activity outside the 30-day window,” Reilly said. “We need to find a way to monetize the rest of the window.”
Reilly also vented about the lower standards used to proclaim a cable series a hit vs. those on broadcast, noting that with its 2.2 18-49 rating, freshman The Mindy Project has been qualified as a modest or middling performer while it ranks higher than most of the heavily buzzed about cable series. “Of the 1,050 original series on cable last season, only four would’ve made it into the top 50 shows on television,” he said. Continuing a theme started by NBC’s topper Bob Greenblatt who called broadcast “the bastard child of television,” a statement that was shot down by CBS’ Les Moonves, Reilly said, “I don’t think we are the bastard or step child. I don’t think the broadcast system is broken or antiquated.” Reilly primarily took on cable because of Netflix’s refusal to report viewership, or as Reilly put it “the unreported mystery audience of Netflix.” He displayed his trademark candor by noting that “I respect most of my competitors, most of them.”
Reilly also reiterated his frustration with the “arbitrary 35-week season.” “The last I checked the calendar is 52 weeks,” he said, noting that the network is breaking tradition next season with 24: Live Another Day and Gang Related debuting in May and M. Knight Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines launching in July. Also, “I’d really want to ban the term midseason, it’s an arbitrary notion,” he said. Fox is aiming at launching new shows throughout the season.
Reilly also came prepared to field criticism over new racy (and racist), low-brow multi-camera comedy Dads from the Ted and American Dad trio of Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. “You know the lineage of those writers. They come out of Family Guy. They’re the next generation of comedy writers… They’re going to try to test a lot of boundaries and be equal opportunity offenders. Are all the jokes calibrated? No. But I’ve never seen a comedy where all jokes are in calibration.” Reilly went on to read scathing reviews CBS mega hit The Big Bang Theory had received and asked for patience with Dads. Asked about the revolving door on The X Factor, Reilly said he felt the panel this past season “worked” that “this year we really got it right.”
Reilly also reflected on the departure of Fox’s alternative chief Mike Darnell, considered the dean of reality executives, and the search for his replacement. “Listen, Mike is a legend in the business,” Reilly said. “Just about everybody in that business has thrown their hat in the ring (as his replacement)… It’s a great job, unscripted at Fox has been part of our history, it’s kept the lights on… Mike will be missed but that’s why we had David Hill come in and help us with this transition on Idol and X Factor, to really keep those managed.” He indicated that a new head of alternative programming will be announced within the next month.
In a sign of Darnell’s changing agenda as future unscripted head at Warner Bros. TV, which produces Idol rival The Voice, Reily said “Mike actually came into my office the other day and said: Spinning chairs are not a gimmick anymore (half-joking). So I think that’s good for them.”