With the departure of Fox’s previous top programming executive and the network’s new co-heads not in place yet, their boss, Fox Networks Group chairman Peter Rice, took the stage on his own at the network’s executive session at the TCAs this morning. Top question of the day: Fox’s new executive structure, in which the network and sibling 20th TV are both under the oversight of the same executives, Dana Walden and Gary Newman.
“We’d been the odd man out,” Rice said, a reference to the other broadcast networks, which have closely integrated with their studios. “As competition for talent has become more intense, it has put us at a disadvantage, and to have the network and the studio aligned would be helpful.”
Rice was asked to elaborate on the ways the previous setup disadvantaged Fox. “The old structure had a clear advantage for the studio: a big independent studio that was able to sell to everyone, which it has done extremely successfully,” Rice said. “But the network was increasingly disadvantaged. The ability to be reactive only because you are a buyer, that funnel became narrower and narrower as the (landscape) became more competitive… By putting these things together, we’re telling the creative community, we have this great network and a great studio, you can speak to us in a single voice.” Like Walden and Newman on the day of the executive announcement, Rice said the network and the studio would operate independently, buying/selling from everywhere. But “we can coordinate those things and open a bigger tent for the creative community.” Still, with all things being equal, wouldn’t the studio have the leg up? Should Universal TV or Warner Bros. TV, which have a lot of business at Fox, be concerned? “I don’t think you can be mutually exclusive,” Rice said. “I don’t think you can say ‘I want to buy from myself, but I want to sell to all of you.’ We’re involved in a business where we are all interrelated.’ We have Modern Family, Homeland and so many shows on other networks, and they have shows on our networks. But the perfect win for the company is a win on our network that’s owned by the studio.”
Rice was asked about the future of Reilly’s initiative to bypass pilot season, which he announced at the previous TCA, complete with a slide of a pilot season tomb stone. “I think that was a little misinterpreted,” Rice said. He indicated that what Fox was actually looking to bury was “trying to have a singular development process, which is very, very rigid: hearing 500 pitches, read scripts in December, order 20 pilots in January when all other networks are doing the same… I don’t think that’s good for the creative process… We are trying to be less rigid and as elastic as possible so creative people can be as creative as they can be. We will be flexible — we will make pilots sometimes in February, sometimes in September, sometime we will go straight to series.”
Rice is credited as the architect of the 24 limited series Live Another Day. Will there be more? “I’d love to see another season of 24,” he said. “(Live Another Day) was twisted and fantastic. It’s a wonderful franchise, and when you look at the show itself, it has many more stories to tell.”
Rice also said he hopes this is not the final season of Fox’s longest-running drama series, ultimate utility player Bones, though he acknowledged that would require reaching new deals with stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz, whose contracts are up at the end of the season.
Also in the “hope it comes back” department — Fox’s summer reality series So You Think You Can Dance, though conversations will not be held until the current cycle is over. The fate of Cabot College is still in limbo as Fox has not made a decision whether to pick up to series the pilot from Matt Hubbard, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. “It’s still in development, it’s up to Dana and Gary to have conversations with Tina, Robert and Matt; they will have to see if everyone is seeing eye to eye.”
Rice acknowledged that Fox “played musical chairs with judges” on American Idol the last several seasons. This year, the judging panel is staying the same, and Rice confirmed today that there will be no behind-the-scenes changes on the show either. “We felt good with production this past season,” Rice said. “Idol is still a very strong show for us. I think it is aging gracefully.”
Fox recently opted not to proceed with ancient Egypt drama Hieroglyph after filming one of what was supposed to be a 13-episode order. “It didn’t live up to the ambition,” Rice said. “Rather than keep plodding through, we decided to stop.”
On the decision to curtail the final season of Glee from 22 to 13 episodes, “we wanted to go out in a way that celebrates it, and felt a compacted final season was the better way. Glee is one of the great shows in TV history; it touched so many hearts and burnt so hard and so fast.”
Rice also chimed in on the ongoing discussion of the increasing irrelevance of Live+same day ratings. He too agreed that overnight ratings paint a very skewed picture, giving the example of Fox shows like The New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which are labeled as low-rated based on live numbers but rise dramatically in time-shifted and online viewing. He was encouraged by advertisers starting to embrace C7 vs. C3 during the most recent Upfronts ad sales period. With the growing popularity of time-shifting, does a programming grid mean anything anymore and does it matter when shows are launched? “I think it’s important in how you release and initially distribute and help audiences the way you guide them through it, instead of a Wild West where everything is up at the same time; It’s helpful to have a schedule,” Rice said. “You can still draft and promote around it. But clearly viewers are making their own schedule. We have to present it in a certain way.”