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TCA: Fox Focusing on Rebuilding Live-Action Comedy Brand

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After what Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly termed a “lackluster fall” for both Fox and its network TV competitors, Fox is in a rebuilding mode with its live-action comedies.

Reilly is “doubling down” his commitment to comedy development and plans to order five half-hour pilots in the next week or so, he told television critics assembled at the Television Critics Association press tour at the Universal Hilton Tuesday morning.

While animated comedy remains a core driver for the network, “obviously rebuilding live action comedy brand” is a priority, Reilly said, adding that live-action laughs are at a “low pulse level” on Fox.

Fox does not have a comedy block on its schedule and is in fact starting 2009 without any live-action comedy on the air. Reilly emphasized the importance of live-action comedy and the advantage of the form being served up to viewers in a block. He pointed to CBS’s success growing its Monday night comedy block and credited that growth in part to a matter of “maintaining that block.”

“Across the dial people still love comedy,” Reilly said. “Two and a Half Men is not only a tent-pole for CBS, it’s the most successful show in syndication.”

Whether a new live-action comedy will make the fall schedule remains to be seen. Reilly says he is rebuilding “methodically” and will “not be leading with our chin.”

If the show can’t be protected on the fall schedule, they won’t put it there, he said.

He responded to NBC’s recent announcement of its strategy to strip a Jay Leno vehicle at 10 p.m. later this year, referring to the Peacock network, which fired him in 2007, as “the crazy ex-wife I can’t get away from.”

“I give them a lot of credit for signing up Jay. I was surprised to see that,” Reilly said. “It’s a smart strategic move for them in a very, very troubled place.”

He noted, however, that 8 p.m. has historically been the real rough spot for NBC. He pointed out that one had to look to the 1990s series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to find a scripted comedy hit in that hour.

As far as Fox going forward, Reilly also said that while he is wrapping up “Prison Break” after this season (Related: Fox Ending ‘Prison Break’) he remains committed to the serialized drama form. “We are going to keep doing them,” he said, acknowledging that with serialized dramas, “there are good seasons and others where people feel they lost their way; they’re high wire acts.”

He also said he will “glue” the oft-moved drama Bones to its new Thursday night slot if it does what he expects it to do; and reality show Moment of Truth is on the shelf and will be slotted into the schedule this summer or if there’s a time-period that needs rescuing.

Other announcements at Fox’s TCA presentation:

New animated sitcom Sit Down, Shut Up premieres Sunday, April 19

“Best. 20 Years. Ever.” A year-long 20th anniversary celebration for The Simpson kicks off with an “Unleash Your Yellow” poster contest  

House’s 100th episode airs Monday, February 2

Auditions for Season 5 of So You Think You Can Dance continue on Tues., Feb. 3 in Miami with more set for Los Angeles, Denver, Memphis and Seattle.