Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly has finally gotten his wish: A four-comedy lineup on Tuesday, pairing Raising Hope with new family comedy Ben & Kate at 8 p.m. and putting Mindy Kaling's new sitcom, The Mindy Project, behind New Girl.
Reilly says the success of New Girl and the critical acclaim for Raising Hope helped give the network a live-action comedy identity this season. He's particularly excited about landing Mindy, which came to Fox after NBC passed. Meanwhile, the Kevin Bacon thriller The Following will be held back until January so that the show (from executive producer Kevin Williamson) can run all 15 episodes without a break.
And in moving Glee to Thursdays behind The X Factor, Reilly says the show will benefit from a strong lead-in, plus a return to the 9 p.m. hour. Glee will split its focus next season between New York and Ohio; among the new stars joining the series are Kate Hudson, who has signed on for a seven-episode arc as a music academy teacher, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Also back: Kiefer Sutherland's Touch, which moves to Fridays. Then there's the not-yet-officially announced new X Factor judges, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato (both of whom are expected to show up this afternoon when Fox unveils its schedule to advertisers). Reilly spoke to TV Guide Magazine about his big fall.
TV Guide Magazine: You've been wanting to do a four-comedy block for a while, and tried it out this spring when Glee was on hiatus. What made you decide to do it?
Kevin Reilly: Literally since day I walked in the door, I've wanted to do this. And we all felt like the comedy business is starting to come around. Piece by piece, we were getting there, but we also had some pretty ugly misfires. But this year it really all turned. If I had any frustrations, it's that Raising Hope hasn't broken out, but it's a good show that we got behind. And then New Girl blew it out. And during the development process we had talent really starting to smell the opportunity at Fox. In the past we were not getting the benefit of the doubt — "Could Fox do comedy?" and "Do they want to go back and do fart jokes or the next smart, classy show?" We did have an embarrassment of riches on the development slate this year in both comedy and drama and had to make some tough choices with things that would have otherwise made the schedule.
TV Guide Magazine: In a coup for you guys, you grabbed Mindy Kaling's new show after NBC passed in it.
Reilly: Mindy is like a dream come true. I've had a long relationship with her, and we've always wanted to work together, we always talked about it. I get very superstitious when something is getting too much buzz too early, but she has learned from [The Office creator] Greg Daniels and she reminds me of Tina Fey in her ability to be both executive producer and star. She's accessible as a person and as a talent on screen, but she runs a tight ship. She's decisive, she's learned how to write on a show and perform simultaneously.
I think win, lose or draw — and I'm as confident as I've ever been in my career that this is a winning hand — people are going to look at our lineup and say, "Oh, I see what they're doing." It's all of the same ilk. I'm not saying they're all the same show, but they all have a strong contemporary voice, a young voice. There's a strong female core to the night. They're broad but hip. They're smart, and I love it.
TV Guide Magazine: There was some concern that you would face too much preemptions on Tuesday night this fall. How will you work around it?
Reilly: Fortunately, Tuesday, we actually get a clean run. It's a miracle because last year really hurt us, obviously. There's no question that our scheduling this year was challenged. In the fall, Fox in particular has a challenge on some nights because on top of our usual post-season baseball, we also have debates and an election. And need to manage our X Factor hours. There are certain nights where it's tough; Tuesday we get a pretty clean run all the way through. Thankfully this is not going to interrupt us on any of our new product. (According to insiders, Fox will likely pre-empt the 8 p.m. shows twice and the 9 p.m. shows twice this fall.) The truth is, a huge World Series is good for the company, and we usually root for it, so we plan on it.
TV Guide Magazine: Why hold Kevin Bacon's The Following to midseason? I know you're keeping the show capped at 15 episodes — is the plan to run them all the way through?
Reilly: Not only does this show feel like our next 24 — conceptually and tonally it just grabs you by the throat — but I think we also need to have a little bit of the cable model mixed in. Things get into that repeat pattern and people are just too busy in this day and age. I see it all time. I bump into people who say, "That's my favorite show, is that still on right now?" They have simply forgotten. Part of the antidote to that is putting on shows in winter — when you've got the HUT [homes using TV] levels and we've got promotional platforms — grabbing that audience with a show that they absolutely must watch, and then putting it on in a row. And we are doing 15 of these a year by contract with Kevin Bacon. I think in this day and age, some of those shortened series make a lot more sense. And it's going to be one of the ways we look to drive right into the spring next year.
TV Guide Magazine: You had a number of decisions you had to make in terms of Touch, The Finder and Alcatraz. How did you decide to keep Touch?
Reilly: One of the hardest things with this job in general is having to turn away or say no to creators you believe in. And we had good news/bad news, but it netted out in the negative on our drama side this year. We launched every one of our dramas, and they all had potential, and they all had an audience, and frankly some or all of those shows would have been back on other, weaker schedules. I would have loved to have given some of those shows more time. But with House going away, we need our next flagship drama. We can't be in the base hit business. That doesn't mean everything needs to be an immediate overnight sensation. But this year's pilots feel sturdy. They don't feel like they're trying to figure out a weird mythology or something that's a work in progress. They also feel very compelling. It just felt like more upside.
As far as Kiefer Sutherland, he's a partner of ours. Not only on the screen, but you know he's a great ambassador for the show. He ran around the world and promoted this. The show, the last couple of weeks, has ticked up a little bit. [Creator] Tim Kring and I have talked extensively about some of the barriers to entry on the show, and he's got some very good ideas for next year to make it more propulsive and let Kiefer's character lead the charge a bit more. I looked at that show and it was pretty clear to us that it hadn't been rejected. Our analysis was, every episode delivered. But you had to work a little hard. You had to let it unfold. And that's not how a lot of people watch television these days. We think there's upside in it.
TV Guide Magazine: We've been predicting the Glee to Thursday at 9 move for some time, and now it's come true. Talk about the move.
Reilly: It's really funny, our schedule is not that hard to figure out, but not too many people figured that one out. They never did the math, where's Glee going?
TV Guide Magazine: You're pairing it with The X Factor, which makes sense on paper, and moving the show back to 9, a time period where creator Ryan Murphy always wanted it to stay.
Reilly: Eight o'clock is just by nature, particularly in spring, heavier lifting. We talked to Ryan a couple of years ago to go in and do a job for us, and when the show becomes more mature we'll try and protect it. And I think the show has gone from its burning-like-a-meteor phase to its phase where it's still a vibrant show that people loved and I think it got unfairly judged in some ways. One of the things I'm excited about for next year is that Ryan is really back on his toes. We'll essentially have a show-within-a-show where the graduation kids go to New York, and we'll follow their adventure in the Big Apple. But we're also going to have some new blood in Ohio. It's going to be a way to keep following people that you love and new ones, and having reunions where even some characters who left can come back.
But the show is still a big platform that people want to be a part of. We've closed a deal with Kate Hudson to do a seven-episode arc in the fall. She's going to play a teacher at a music academy. (Sarah Jessica Parker will also guest star next season.) The talent is still coming in to do what Gwyneth [Paltrow] did, and I think that's going to keep things sparkly, and this new direction is going to give it a renaissance. With the lead-in from our X Factor performance shows, I think Glee is going to go on a really nice run in its fourth and fifth seasons.
TV Guide Magazine: And finally, The X Factor. NBC will be airing The Voice this fall during the same time frame. What are your hopes and expectations for a re-worked X Factor?
Reilly: With NBC putting on The Voice, [it's] more competition but also more attention. The big showdown: Who's going to win it? This drop that The Voice has had, once again it looks like they have a gimmick that people really love, but once the gimmick is done, there's not been much air there. Simon Cowell is the original; that show played steady throughout its run. There were enormous expectations, but it locked in and delivered. He's learned a few things, there will be some format changes, and we're going to have a few names that make people show up and check it out. My bet will be on them to produce a great show. I wish that space weren't so crowded. I wish we were just competing with ourselves, but so be it. I think it's going to be one of the exciting things of the fall, and we're going to benefit because the show's going to be better.
TV Guide Magazine: I know you can't discuss the new judges yet.
Reilly: I can't, unfortunately. Obviously there's been a lot of validity to the speculation.
TV Guide Magazine: Any other headlines coming out of your announcement?
Reilly: Check out this Mob Doctor pilot. I think it's going to end up being one of those shows that has real commercial access. It's a very good conceptual hook, and it's executed in a way where it's a cool show, essentially in the world of the mob. I set the bar very high on that. Monday got very tough this year. But I think we're fielding a lineup now that's got its punching back. It's the only scripted drama shows on the air [in those time slots]. And we'll be talking more about this Animation Domination HD (Saturdays at 11 p.m. in midseason), which will be unfolding over the course of the next year. It's a really exciting business and the multi-platform nature of it will be very cool. We're growing our own sort of Adult Swim block there. It won't be on until after January, but I think it's going to be a very cool thing.
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