This morning’s confirmation that Kevin Reilly was stepping down as Chairman of Entertainment at Fox Broadcast Co. ends weeks of speculation he would exit in the wake of the March promotion of Rupert Murdoch’s son, James to co-COO at 21st Century Fox, giving him oversight of, among other properties, the Fox broadcast network. When the dust settled back then, Fox Networks Group chief Peter Rice, to whom Reilly reported, would now report to James Murdoch instead of president/COO Chase Carey.
“He had to make a move,” one industry exec speculated, of Rice in the wake of the March shuffle.
More than one industry watcher noted during Fox’s Upfront presentation that Reilly seemed less at ease on stage than in years past, which only added to the speculation Reilly would depart. So though the news wasn’t much of a surprise, the timing was somewhat; traditionally, network owners wait until the upfront deals are wrapped, before announcing staff changes at Reilly’s level.
Today’s announcement triggered the official start of that time-honored TV industry parlor game, Pick The Replacement. Much talk focused on 20th TV chairman Dana Walden having long wanted the job, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf maybe not wanting the job because his current gig is more prestigious, powerful, and money-making, and Reilly having, back in March, shifted development duties to FBC COO Joe Earley.
These days the Pick The Replacement is somewhat less straightforward, what with media congloms often making these calls based on what makes the most sense structurally – unlike the old days (five years ago) when choices were more often made based on personality, and Who’s Clocked The Most Hits. But, in those old days (still five years ago) these jobs were about day-to-day ratings combat; in 2014, the posts are more about managing pieces of company-created content for overall margins and profits.
And yet, the position is considered incredibly volatile. Fox network is heading into a tough stretch, ratings-wise, after this season, in which returning series took a collective tumble — including the network’s two-night-a-week singing competition American Idol, which has been tumbling several seasons now. And, next season, unlike this recently concluded one, Fox will have neither the Super Bowl nor the NFC Championship on its primetime slate.
It’s tough to take a job like Reilly’s when a network is just heading in to a down cycle – much better to be the person who gets the gig after that exec.
“If you’re the one that gets lucky, like Steve McPherson after ABC’s horrible years, and Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy and Lost all come on the schedule when you come in to the job” it’s great, noted one industry watcher. “If you come in while the [down] cycle is starting, it’s terrible – and this is the beginning season of Fox’s down cycle,” the pundit forecast.
“This was going to be a miserable year for Kevin,” the exec said, finding that silver lining to today’s news.