In the midst of putting the finishing touches on his network’s fall prime-time schedule, Kevin Reilly is in full-on survivalist mode. The Fox entertainment chairman is stocking up on new dramas and comedies like a man filling the larder of a fallout shelter, nearly doubling down on the five freshman series he ordered this time a year ago.
“I’m going to overstock the shelves,” Reilly told Adweek just days before Fox’s May 13 upfront presentation at New York’s Beacon Theater. “We need the original hours. Last year we were confident with our development slate—perhaps too confident—and when one drama stumbled out of the gate, we only had one in reserve.”
While that midseason backup turned out to be one of a handful of successful broadcast launches (when a week of time-shifted viewing is applied to The Following’s same-day deliveries, the show averaged a 4.3 rating in the 18-49 demo), Reilly’s not taking any chances. Last week, Fox gave the green light to five new comedies and four dramas, two of which are representative of the sort of big-swing genre exercises Fox steered clear of last year.
While the garrulous and refreshingly candid programming boss was reluctant to play favorites, Reilly’s enthusiasm for the drama Rake erased any ambiguity about where it stands in the Fox hierarchy. Starring Greg Kinnear as Keegan Joye, a flaming dirigible of a criminal defense lawyer/degenerate gambler with a near-pathological inability to censor himself, Rake is the quintessential Fox drama.
“We’re still the home of the Great American Asshole Protagonist,” Reilly cracked, adding that Kinnear’s character comes from a long line of charismatic bounders. “Rake’s a modern iteration of The Rockford Files, which was my favorite show when I was a kid. Greg is great in it, and he really brings the charm to a guy who has a lot of issues.”
Among the other newbies that earned a berth on Fox’s schedule are the dramas Sleepy Hollow, Gang Related and the J.J. Abrams sci-fi cop show, Almost Human (working title).
Beyond the fresh batch of content, Reilly is looking to shake up the cookie-cutter broadcast model by ordering a full complement of limited series. “To a certain extent, network television was created with a one-size-fits-all template. But airing 22 episodes and a lot of repeats…that’s simply not the universe we live in anymore,” he said.
To that end, Fox is planning to develop a number of self-contained story arcs that will in their entirety run for just 10 to 12 episodes. Among the minis in the hopper are M. Night Shyamalan’s supernatural neo-Noir, Wayward Pines, and an adaptation of Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson.
The seeming surfeit of original hours will likely have an impact on one of Fox’s most enduring franchises. Reilly said he is considering a move that would shave some hours from American Idol’s weekly running time, while the less sturdy X Factor could be shunted to an alternative slot after this season. “It’s locked in for this fall, but that’s definitely something we would think about,” he said.