Saturday, May 31, 2014
I like Kevin Reilly. I have not had too many dealings with him. My partner and I did a pilot for him when he was at NBC that didn’t go, but that’s the business. Every pilot you write for any network might not go for any variety of reasons. But I found Kevin to be passionate, smart, and refreshingly candid. I have no doubt he will land on his feet. Top executives always do. If Jeff Zucker can still find work after destroying the National Broadcasting Company, anybody in the industry who once held a high title can.
But Kevin did not do a great job at Fox. The network has fallen steadily over his seven-year tenure. And seven years is more than enough rope. In fairness, he inherited AMERICAN IDOL when it was a national phenomenon. Good luck topping that. It’s tough enough to replace hit shows, try replacing absolute juggernauts. THE X-FACTOR fell short.
But having hit shows like IDOL or HOUSE or 24 at the time, allows you to launch new series easier by airing them after the monster hits. For years, NBC didn’t have that luxury. Again, thank you Jeff Zucker.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the shows you develop and put on the air for sampling have to be good. The ones on Fox weren’t. And they squandered their golden opportunities.
In particular was comedy. I’ve said this before, it’s baffling that Fox would renew THE MINDY PROJECT considering it has been on the air two full years and gets atrocious ratings. Yes, it has a loyal fan base and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY editors who are ga-ga over it, but in a 500 channel universe it is getting trounced. The fact that it’s still on says Reilly had no faith in his development slate or made a huge tactical error in thinking that niche programming on a major broadcast network could succeed. It’s like if the Yankees kept a player in the line-up who was hitting .042 because he had a loyal fan club of fifty people who came to every game.
(To be clear: I'm not talking about the quality of the content of that show. I'm just saying that America has voted.)
Look, all networks make mistakes. All networks put on bombs. Programming geniuses like Brandon Tartikoff and Fred Silverman put on bombs. Anybody remember SUPERTRAIN or PINK LADY AND JEFF?
But Reilly of late has backed a lot of wrong horses. And then kept entering them in the race. Giving Seth MacFarlane a guaranteed season-long on air commitment for a multi-camera show when he had never even done a multi-camera show and he had his finger in ten other projects was insane. The result was DADS. Reilly and his team couldn’t tell before the pilot aired that it was terrible, offensive, and painfully unfunny? They didn’t say go back and do it again… and again… and a third time if that’s what it took? As big as Chuck Lorre is, CBS made him re-do THE BIG BANG THEORY until he got it right. And boy, did that pay dividends for everybody. Whether it was the executives he chose, the writers he hired, his taste, or just a perfect storm of all the above, Reilly could not launch a comedy. I think in his tenure he had only one mild sort-of-hit and that was THE NEW GIRL. And even that show, instead of building an audience over time, spiraled down to where it’s now getting close to MINDY ratings. By definition THE NEW GIRL is not a hit.
Reilly kept trying to re-invent the wheel. He talked about eliminating pilots, going right to series, etc. To me, he was flailing, desperately searching for anything to shake things up and halt the slide.
At the end of the day, Reilly and Fox were just not a good fit. Now I don’t know how much interference he had from on-high. I don’t know the politics and pressure he was under. I bet it was enormous. Plus, the TV landscape was shifting right under his feet. In many ways he was shooting at a moving target. Let’s see how well the next person does. I wish whoever that is well. It wouldn’t surprise me if their first order of business was nixing a certain low rated show.
I also wish Kevin Reilly well. Given the right job and circumstances I still think he’s a winner. Fortunately, there are 498 networks left.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM