Call it a tale of two networks. Whereas NBC's chairman dwelled on the network's great past year at the TCA winter previews, Fox's Kevin Reilly was focused on the future. "We here at Fox sort of limped our way in here from 2012," he said. "Nobody's happier than us to turn the page and get onto a fresh year and better things to come."
Reilly said Fox struggled with airing shows consistently because of the usual interruptions (postseason baseball), as well as the presidential debates. But he also acknowledged lower ratings across the board because of the overall "vibrant" ecosystem of television.
"There is more choice, more quality, more breadth of quality," he said. "There are so many access points, so many availabilities. ... That is very good for the overall television business. We have a breadth of ways for people to consume [television], and they are consuming it in many different ways. That has made our day job more challenging. Our job is attracting big, giant, broad hits. We're struggling right now because we didn't put on a big hit. When we do, this picture will look very different."
Fox's best hope for a big hit is its new serial killer drama The Following, which stars Kevin Bacon as a retired FBI agent called out of retirement to help catch a serial killer. Although Reilly believes it matches the intensity of such cable hits as The Walking Dead, he was also grilled about how the violence of the show will be perceived following shooting tragedies in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn. "You have to absorb everything," Reilly said. "We're in the culture business. You are constantly monitoring cultural shifts, current events. ... We both reflect society and at times we try to drive it. It comes with a responsibility. We take everything we put on the air with the utmost responsibility."
"This show adheres to our broadcast standards," he added later. "I think the show is intense because of the psychological nature. There have been more violent shows on television. They have come and gone and nobody noticed or cared because they were insignificant, bad shows. This is a significant show and a good show. As such, you're invested in it and it feels more intense than it is. If you put it through the filter of broadcast standards, of what we say is allowable or not, there's nothing in that show that we've had to even fight over."
Some other highlights from Reilly's executive session:
Will Britney Spears be back on The X Factor? Reilly said he and Simon Cowell have yet to discuss the next season, but from the network's point of view, Brit-Brit was a success. "I thought it went very, very well," Reilly said. "It was fraught with unknowns, and I think Britney did a very good job. People are fascinated with her and always will be. Last year the ratings were a little but higher, but I think it was a better show this year. I think she tucked in really nicely on the bench."
Is there life in the In Living Color reboot? Short answer: no. "In Living Color is done -- that's not going to happen unfortunately," Reilly said. "For various reasons it just didn't come together. That show was a seminal show on television and the bar was set at that level. It just didn't seem like it was going to reinvent the next chapter." Reilly did note that he's not ruling our rebooting it again down the line.
What's up with The Goodwin Games? Reilly said the new comedy from the How I Met Your Mother team is a fine show, but Fox is holding it back because of the aforementioned struggles with consistency in programming. "I'm creatively very happy with what's happening in [our Tuesday comedy] block. But we haven't been able to deliver the ratings," Reilly said. "I'm not sure [Goodwin Games] is going to improve our lot, ratings-wise. So, we've got to hold off on it. To further upset that block is only going to exacerbate our problems. We are going to maintain consistency." Reilly said Goodwin Games could come on later in the spring or even summer.
Is Fox looking for a "new Fringe"? Short answer: yes. "Fox has never left the genre business," Reilly said. "We've had some bad false starts and broken some hearts. It was great to finally see one through and finish it in a great way for fans, and not leave them hanging. But we've never left that business. ... We always look for it. We set the standard many years ago with The X-Files."
How's Glee doing this season? Reilly is very happy with the show's post-graduation story line, which has split the storytelling between the high school glee club and the lives of graduates living in New York and elsewhere. "The New York concept has worked very well," Reilly said. "It's a high-risk thing and... [it has] defined Glee in a more broad way. We've heard a lot of good reaction from fans."
Did Fox green-light its celebrity diving special just to beat ABC to the punch? "Everything we do is to get good ratings for ourselves. You get no points for damaging someone else," Reilly said. "It's all fair. Ours was ready earlier. ... We had open airdates. ... We're not trying to beat ABC on this. ... There have been other copycats on the air that have succeeded quite well in recent history. It's not a new game to television."
Speaking of... Reilly seemed slightly miffed that NBC's extended The Voice's fall premiere to a third night at the last minute in order to compete with The X Factor's premiere. "It went in the file for later reference," Reilly joked. "The score will be settled at some point."