TCA: Fox's Kevin Reilly Says 'R.I.P. Pilot Season'

Complete Coverage: TCA Winter Press Tour 2014

Kevin Reilly is a given to make big statements at TCA and Monday morning was no different. His message: "R.I.P pilot season."

After years of speaking out publicly about the inefficiency of the annual pilot season, the Fox entertainment chairman proclaimed this year Fox is finally "bypassing it," Monday during Fox's TCA portion of the winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif.  

"It's nothing short of a miracle that the talent is able to produce anything of quality in that environment," he said.

He backed up the statement by walking critics through 10 projects currently in some stage of series production and noting that typically production on fall series begins in July.

The 10 shows in the works are: a Bible series, Wayward PinesGracepointBackstromHieroglyphGothamThe Middle ManMulaney, Cabot College (working title), and Fatrick.

Reilly said that he agreed with comments made by Damon Lindelof last week during a TCA panel for HBO's The Leftovers, where the showrunner said that "cable is far superior to network."

"The broadcasting scheduling development season was built in a three network monopoly," Reilly said. "It’s highly inefficient."

He was careful to point out that he is not making a statement about the TV business as a whole with this decision. "I am not saying what is wrong with the industry, but I think we can get more consistent product and more scheduling and marketing flexibility," he said. 

The exec also addressed diversity at the network, something he has been discussing for several years, saying "I’m sorry we even have to have discussion in 2014." 

He said behind-the-scenes they still have work to do but the show's cast and the company's executive ranks are in good shape. "The senior executive ranks are more diverse than any other broadcast network in town," he said. 

Other highlights from Reilly's executive session included: 

  • --Reilly fielded questions during the panel about the fate of the struggling reality competition show The X Factor. "If the show were to come back it would not come back in the format we currently have," he said, emphasizing that the net had not made a decision about the reality series yet. He added that he doesn't "ever count out Simon Cowell on anything."
  • -- The ongoing court battle with Aereo, whose streaming of broadcast TV to subscribers has raised copyright issues, came up during the Q&A as well. "We are gonna fight it tooth and nail," he said. "We actually are getting a little traction in the courts right now. We feel we have a very strong case." Broadcasters recently scored a victory with the Supreme Court agreeing to hear their appeal of a lower court's decision refusing to grant an injunction against Aereo. "[News Corp. President and COO] Chase Carey was very open about his remarks," he said. "If that were to come to be, we would have to take some drastic measures. We're not going to sit back and have our business destroyed by something we think is unconstitutional."
  • -- Ahead of the executive session, the network announced that it had formed an alternative comedy venture with Andy Samberg's The Lonely Island comedy trio. "[We] want to find the next Louie, Key and Peele out of this venture," said Reilly.
  • -- The network is currently negotiating on a season renewal of Bones but the exec assumes the show is coming back.
  • -- Sleepy Hollow ordered for 13 episodes beacause the show's complex storytelling benefits from compacted season because you have "better control of the ship." Multicam comedies, however, sometimes do better under 24 episode format. 
  • -- On premiering Enlisted on Friday night: "I haven’t given up on Friday night. Have to break the habit that it is not worth their time."
  • -- Reilly said after his Q&A on stage that he expects the new process for developing series at Fox to yield fewer busted pilots, more closely mirroring what cable networks do—and what he started doing when he was a top exec at FX—because pilots will be shot with the intention to air them.
  • -- Given all the changes to the pilot process, a natural question is what what Fox’s upfront presentation will look like. Fox still will certainly be at upfronts, Reilly said following his TCA Q&A. What the network’s presentation will look like is still to be determined. In recent years, Fox has emphasized overall strengths of the network rather than focusing on running down the new season schedule. Reilly said he expects to have a schedule determined in March, but added that he might not announce it then.
  • -- On the topic of killing off the family dog Brian from the series Family Guy, Reilly said following his Q&A on stage that the move came out of a direct conversation with series creator Seth McFarlane. They were discussing mixing things up a bit and according to Reilly McFarlane said, “What if we killed Brian?” “I said, ‘Do it,’” Reilly said.

(Stephanie Robbins and Melissa Grego contributed to this story.)

Jessika Walsten

Jessika is content engagement director of Broadcasting + Cable, Multichannel News and NextTV. She has been with the brands in various roles since 2013. In her current role, she works primarily behind the screen, keeping an eye on the website and fixing any site bugs. A graduate of USC Annenberg, Jessika has edited and reported on a variety of subjects for NextTV, including profiles on industry leaders and breaking news.