Speculation about a Kevin Reilly departure from Fox, which had been simmering for months, flared up after the network’s upfront presentation 10 days ago, with many who attended describing Reilly as detached in his delivery on stage. In a brief interview today, I asked Reilly about that performance. “It was my 11th broadcast upfront, it was probably hard for me to do it again but it wasn’t for lack of belief in the product, I was probably thinking about the future.”
That future will involve television. Despite joking about getting a call from State Farm Insurance, Reilly insists that “I’m going to stay in the television business.” He added that there is nothing pending but now, with his resignation from Fox in effect, he can explore options. “It is an interesting landscape, with opportunities, both present and evolving.” Would he consider another broadcast job? “Never say never,” he said, adding, “I don’t see that as the next stop.” As for what that next step will be, speculation is that he may succeed Steve Koonin as president of Turner Entertainment Networks, bringing him back to cable where he had a very successful run at FX.
The 10 consecutive years running a broadcast network, first NBC and then Fox, had taken a toll, with observers noting that Reilly had lost some of the spark over the past year or so after doing the job for so long. “I’d accomplished a lot in broadcast, and I’ve been lucky to have had this run,” he said. “When you start to feel you’re not coming to work with the same enthusiasm, maybe you shouldn’t hang onto that job. That’s a good job and a hard one, you need someone who can be a cheerleader.”
Reilly is optimistic about Fox’s future despite its recent ratings woes, with ratings for most returning series falling double digits and very few new series breaking through. He acknowledged the problems, tied largely to the decline of American Idol. “When you have the biggest show on any network beginning to show its age that is occupying two nights, plus a lot of X Factor, statistically you are bound to encounter difficulties. It affects (traction) and there was collateral damage,” he said. “But this is not a house on fire. We have viable franchises and shows. I think the decompression has happened, and they need to start building.”
As for Reilly’s latest brainchild, the changes to the pilot model, “I hope it’s the beginning of a change for the business models out there that, starting with cable and extending to SVOD, have built in contemporary fashion,” he said. “Broadcast networks are not going away any time soon, it is a great and well performing business that can benefit from (change), let’s hope it’s a step in the right direction.”