Rice: Fox Won’t Be ‘Rigid’ About Pilot Season #TCA14

Complete Coverage: TCA Summer 2014

Beverly Hills, Calif. -- Fox will continue to experiment with changes to the traditional series development model, according to Fox Networks Group Chairman and CEO Peter Rice — who took questions Sunday at the TCA summer press tour — even if the network isn’t talking quite so loudly about that experimentation as it was a few months ago.

Rice addressed whether the network would continue on the path departed entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly set out on at the TCA winter press tour in January that "bypasses" pilot season. “I think that was a little misinterpreted. I think a lot of people felt that Kevin was saying he wouldn’t make pilots anymore, and that wasn’t his intention," Rice said, adding that he “agreed with [Reilly] completely.” Rice called pilot season “very, very rigid,” and said that the network would, going forward, be flexible. “We will make pilots, sometimes we’ll go straight to series,” he said. “We will make pilots in February, but sometimes we’ll make them in September.”

Speaking to a small group of reporters after the executive session, Rice said, “I think you’re going to see us be flexible and have an elastic way in which we develop our  shows. I don’t think we can have a rigid system, and I think that’s what Kevin was talking about.” The broadcast networks, according to Rice, “had sort of locked themselves in to this rigidity, which was fine when this was the only system. But when you’re competing with people who aren’t working in that system, talent has flocked to those other systems because they feel it’s a more creative system.” He added that while the network will have a flexible development schedule, “We’ll make pilots in February. If we come in January, and you say, ‘You guys said you weren’t going to make pilots anymore,’ there will be pilots made in February, and Kevin would have made pilots in February as well.

Rice fielded questions at the network’s executive session nearly one week after announcing that 20th Century Fox Television Studio chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman had been named chairmen and CEOs of the Fox Television Group, which would bring the studio and Fox Broadcasting under one roof. The move came two months after Reilly announced that he would step down as head of the network. Rice said “preexisting engagements” had kept Walden and Newman, who do not officially start their new jobs until the end of the month, from appearing at the tour.

Comparing the old structure, in which the studio and network were led independently, to the new, Rice said, “I think the old structure held a clear advantage for the studio, in that it was a big independent studio that was able to sell to everybody, and therefore did that extremely successfully, and successfully navigated the relationship with the network. The network, I think, was increasingly disadvantaged as the other networks started shutting down their studio arms and only started producing for themselves. Warners was servicing everybody, 20th was servicing everybody.” He added that the network was “a buyer—people would bring things in to you and you could by them. I think that funnel became narrower.”

Rice also discussed comedy at the network, pointing to shows that Walden and Newman have developed for other networks as studio heads.

“They were How I Met Your Mother, they had Modern Family,” Rice said. “We would love to have hits of their scale.”

Other highlights from the session included:

-- Noting that “We moved from a C3 to a C7 on about half of our upfront,” Rice joked, “All television is ultimately viewed live. Everyone is alive when they’re watching the show.”

--Rice said that Nielsen’s ratings are still useful for some purposes, but fall short in others. “Nielsen provides a currency that is a trusted currency between networks and advertisers,” he said. “Between that, it’s a system that works. Where it really falls down is measuring social impact” of individual shows.

--With 24: Live Another Day having recently ended, Rice said that the network and creators of the franchise “haven’t had a specific conversation” about continuing the series. He also said of Bones, “I hope this year is not the last year.”