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Fox Affiliates to Next Entertainment Chief: Take Big Swings

Fox affiliates saluted Kevin Reilly, who steps down as Fox entertainment chairman at the end of June, for being a risk taker whose programming decisions helped shape the network’s identity, and for pushing for year round development. They were also hard pressed to name hit programs that defined his tenure.

Tommy Schenck, VP and general manager of WRAZ Raleigh, was surprised by the news of Reilly’s departure coming off what he saw as a very convincing upfront presentation. “I admired him for taking chances,” says Schenck. “He wasn’t afraid to swing the bat.”  

No successor has been named.

Reilly’s seven year reign, as both president and then chairman, was very much defined by American Idol, a former ratings monolith that has fallen dramatically in the ratings. “We benefited greatly from that program over the years, but at some point, the law of diminishing returns set in,” says Lyle Schulze, VP and general manager of WCTI-WFXI Greenville (N.C.) and VP of programming for Bonten Media Group. “I think the next person has their work cut out for them.”

Schulze would like to see younger skewing programming more in line with Fox’s trademark 18-49 than 25-54. He and others would like to see more bold programming decisions. “Continue to be forward thinking and not afraid to try new things that others may pass on,” says Chuck Samuels, general manager at WUHF Rochester. “That’s how Idol became such a huge hit.”

Several affiliates saw Reilly as an adroit “facilitator,” in the words of one, in terms of keeping existing hits hot, including the limited return of 24, more than a developer and cultivator of standout shows. Multiple ones did cite Sleepy Hollow as a quality product of Reilly’s tenure, while a promising upfront presentation in May could spark the next hit, whether it’s Gotham or Empire or Red Band Society; Schenck called the fall sneak-peek a “fresh, creative, unique lineup of shows.”

Jeff Rosser, chairman of the Fox affiliates board, was not available for comment.

With two hours of prime a night, Fox station chiefs have larger things to worry about than an outgoing entertainment chief, such as their own news operations and local sales. They expressed trust in Fox finding the right successor. “I’m optimistic that what Fox will do will be better for the network,” says Jay Zollar, VP/general manager at WLUK Green Bay. “I wish them well.”

The station execs conceded that seven years is a pretty good run atop a network’s entertainment division. “It’s a hot seat,” says Schenck.