No amount of hurriedly typed prose can sum up the session with Fox boss Kevin Reilly as well as the house music that followed Reilly’s open, genial conversation with the members of the Television Critics Association: Fun.’s “Some Nights” (key lyrics: “This is it boys, this is war”) and Mariah Carey’s “Honey.” The first could be construed as Fox throwing down the gauntlet for the number of outlets that will presenting their new programming at the event affectionately referred to as “The Death March With Cocktails”; the other could be seen as 100 percent, uncut gloating.
But Fox and Reilly are in a good position to gloat: At the top of his session, the Fox Broadcasting Corporation’s president of entertainment confirmed that Mariah Carey will one of the seats at the American Idol judges’ table vacated by Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. (Nigel Lythgoe might not want to admit that Lopez is leaving him behind, but Reilly’s over it. Consider him the Marc Anthony to Lythgoe’s Ben Affleck.) On top of having a show that will soon feature one of the most popular recording artists in the world, Fox wrapped its eighth-straight season at the top of the Nielsen ratings in 2012, this despite the erosion of Idol’s viewership and a softer-than-hoped-for launch for The X Factor.
The network has a prized perch, but it’s also a precarious one: In addition to Fox’s flagging success in the singing-competition realm, it recently lost one of its biggest scripted hits—House, which wrapped in May—and the once-mighty Glee is moving to a tough timeslot—Thursdays at 8 p.m.—where it will have to split its attention between the McKinley High graduates who’ve moved to New York and the kids still singing their hearts out and registering their mugging reactions to Top 40 hits in Lima, Ohio. Though one initial conception for Glee’s fourth season had Ryan Murphy literally splitting the show between Manhattan and suburban Ohio—“We can’t be in two locations moving a huge tapestry of characters forward” Reilly told the TCA—the forthcoming episodes will feature a finer mix of the show’s now-expanded setting.
Fox may be a network in transition, but, in Reilly’s experience, transition is the basic state of running a broadcast network. “When the old hits cycle out, the new hits cycle in,” he said, and it’s entirely possibly that he’ll have two new hit comedies on his hands with The Mindy Project and Ben And Kate, which will join New Girl and Raising Hope to form Fox’s new, two-hour comedy bloc on Tuesday nights. It’s less likely that Reilly’s prophetic vision of a Best Drama Series Emmy nomination for Touch will come to fruition, but maybe he was just high on the Carey news while talking about how networks can compete with the prestige-drama offerings of basic and premium cable. That was followed by something of a silent endorsement of the dire-seeming The Mob Doctor—Fox’s third and final new show of the fall—to which it can only be surmised that Mimi is a hell of a drug.
Specters on the horizon, as identified by Reilly: CBS’ deal to broadcast the Super Bowl and the AFC Championship game in 2013, in addition to the fickle whims of genre fans, who will angrily shake their fists at Fox Plaza all the way until Fringe’s impending conclusion. Reilly doubled-down on the network’s commitment to sci-fi and fantasy fare, stating that he hopes the fact that Fox gave five seasons to Fringe is enough to earn some “cred.” (Sorry: Amongst the nerds, cred is only earned by bankrolling six seasons and a movie.) But his is the network that had a game-changing hit with The X-Files, after all, and for all of its good fortune between the end of that series and today, Fox seems to be looking backward before it fully engages in looking to the future. The Tuesday-night bloc—officially and unfortunately branded “Laugh Your Fox Off” night—is an attempt for the network to give its comedic offerings an identity, something it hasn’t done since the heady heyday of Married… With Children, The Simpsons, Martin, and In Loving Color. Meanwhile, the future of American Idol and The X Factor rests on pop stars who’ve had tremendous success in the past, with the surprisingly “feisty” Britney Spears anchoring X Factor while Carey holds down the Idol fort.
In a year where Fox is only presenting three new shows at the press tour—by contrast, NBC is cramming panels for eight new shows into its TCA day tomorrow—it’s understandable that Reilly might want to play it conservative and confident. Leave the big news for another year; this time around, it’s all about putting Mariah Carey on speaker phone and handing out self-back-pats for keeping Fringe alive for so long. And, you know, for willing accolades for Touch into existence.