Saturday, May 31, 2014

My thoughts on Kevin Reilly leaving Fox

Kevin Reilly is stepping down from running the Fox television network. He wanted to explore other exciting opportunities and familiar bullshit like that. Considering how bad Fox’s ratings have been (and that's with the Super Bowl), one could make a case that he was fired. Or cancelled.

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.

38 comments:

m stillman, toronto said...

"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."

... It's things like that that make this blog worth reading.

Terrence Moss said...

And he cancelled "enlisted" and "surviving jack" after launching them midseason without a real shot. But had already renewed the already in the ground "glee".

So i say, "bye Felipe!"

Johnny Walker said...

Wow. COMMUNITY had better ratings in its last season than THE MINDY PROJECT.

Still, maybe Kevin Reilly was trying to GROW something. There's often talk on this blog about letting shows find their feet -- could that be what he was trying to do? If so, that's quite commendable. (Plus I'm guessing it doesn't cost much to produce anyway.)

Marshall said...

I'm all for letting a show grow and find its feet, but how long do you realistically give a show to do that? Two years is a long time to still be allowing a series that opportunity, unless it's a pet project and you're pretty much set on keeping it around irregardless.

Johnny Walker said...

True, but Seinfeld only hit in season four (and became huge in season five). Cheers only hit in season three (and became huge in four).

I think Friends gave the impression that if it's not a hit out of the gate, it's not worth it.

That said, I haven't seen the The Mindy Project... Is it actually any good?

tabman said...

Surviving Jack--only 7 episodes? Was that Reilly's call?

Anonymous said...

The guy just in the photo "Reilly" has that "lets take a meeting" jag-off look, as Johnny Carson once said of Chevy Chase, Reilly couldn't ad lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner. Fox,and the big javascript:void(0)3 choose only the lowest hanging fruit,skewed to mostly a post-literate demographic. The cable networks continue to creatively kill ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox.

Kristina said...

In defense of Mindy, yes the show gets horrible ratings but the show itself has actually gotten much better in Season Two. And you have to take into account that it's lead-ins, Glee and New Girl, were just not good this year. Glee's finale ratings did worse than the CW lineup's ratings and New Girl's episodes have been on a decline since Nick and Jess got together. I know there are other factors to a show having bad ratings, but it's tough to get them when your lead-ins are just not doing well. Though I will concede, New Girl had better ratings overall this season, keep in mind the last couple of episodes of Mindy Project had better ratings than New Girl.

MikeBo said...

If I were Kevin Reilly, I would print out a copy of today's Ken Levine blog and include it in every resume packet I was presenting to prospective employers. It's that good! Oh, and because I'm an occasional feather ruffle, I'd send a blind copy to Mr. Zucker. I'm sure he hasn't listened to anybody yet, which is why he is still working.

Charles Freericks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Freericks said...

When I was still a young and "rising" television executive there were a group of "can-do-no-wrong" guys out there who were so sharp in every way it was incredible (and intimidating to a screw up like me). Kevin was one of those guys and I would always be nervous when going to pitch to him (he knows so much, how can I not look like an idiot). I still think he is extremely smart and passionate, but like so many others from that mix, I also realize he was lucky. Hell, we were all lucky. We were all lucky to get those jobs. We were all lucky to end up working on a hit of some kind. Some of us happened to be on a huge hit and were deemed stars. The executive ranks are not the same as the writing ranks. You guys had to have talent. We had to be in the right place at the right time. With no aspersions to Kevin (whom if I were in position to, I would hire in an instant), none of us really gave enough credit to the huge percentage that luck played in everything we did.

mickey said...

I think you are talking about the KC Royals and..
Yunieski Betancourt...or Jeff Francoeur...or Chris Getz...or Kyle Davies...or...you get the idea

gottacook said...

"(To be clear: I'm not talking about the quality of the content of those shows. I'm just saying that America has voted.)"

Ken, are you saying that you believe the TV ratings system to be accurate in reflecting the viewing habits of the nation? In 1969 NBC canceled Star Trek, which had already gained an extra season because of the first national fan base to have successfully influenced a network decision (I wasn't in it, I was only 11). So when low ratings for that third season doomed the show (which had been placed in a historically low-rated slot, 10 p.m. Fridays), it seemed likely that some proportion of viewers was being missed.

If you've been convinced that the TV ratings system is accurate in its present form, how so?

Mike McCann said...

It's surprised me that FOX, which had solid "quality drama" franchises in HOUSE and 24, isn't the home of other standout shows. When an AMC, previously home to bad reruns and third-tier movies, grabs attention with BREAKING BAD and MAD MEN while FOX flounders... I'm wondering about the Murdoch-net's decision-making process. Frankly, why is THE AMERICANS airing on FX instead of the flagship network?

Stephen Robinson said...

SEINFELD, CHEERS, and MASH steadily improved over its first two seasons, SEINFELD almost became another show. Season 3 of CHEERS built on the previous two seasons.

Has THE MINDY PROJECT done any of this? Is there evidence that its third season will be like the third season of BUFFY or STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.

FRIENDS, in comparison, really grew in its first three years -- beyond being a flash in the pan hit. The first season almost feels dated, while later seasons are more timeless.

Again, is any of this evident in THE MINDY PROJECT?

Anonymous said...

>It’s like if the Yankees kept a player in the line-up who was hitting .042 because he had a loyal fan club

Isn't that why they keep Jeter?

MikeN said...

Fox should dump the syndication of Seinfeld/Friends/Simpsons that they air at 7, and put on a rerun of Special Report w Bret Baier. It would instantly beat out the other networks news offerings. Then you have a stronger leadin for the 8 o clock shows.

Jon said...

as Johnny Carson once said of Chevy Chase, Reilly couldn't ad lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner

If Carson said it, he stole it from Fred Allen, who said (a bit more tastefully) of Jack Benny that Benny couldn't ad lib a belch after a Hungarian dinner.

DBenson said...

"He has left to pursue . . . other pursuits."
-- talk show host Dick on "Newhart", moments after accidentally informing his predecessor he was fired ("How'd he take it?", the producer asks casually)

James Van Hise said...

You point out that this is now a 500 channel TV universe, so how are the ratings even determined with any accuracy? TV viewship overall is at an all time low. 50 years ago when the US population was at least a hundred million less, more people watched TV. Today a show is considered doing great if ten million people watch it, which is a small fraction of the population. I know people who just plain won't watch commercial TV at all, because of all the commercials (which are more than 15 minutes an hour now). Even when I record a show to watch later I'm amazed that they have commercial breaks every 7 minutes. That's maddening! That has to alienate viewers. I don't even understand how the far flung cable channels can even determine ratings. BBC America has cancelled shows due to "ratings" and I always wonder, "What, did it have a 0.2 instead of a 0.3?" BBC America used to have a message board but they finally got rid of it, I think because of all the complaints about their boring program line up (you mean you don't want to watch 6 episodes in a row of Top Gear?).

DaveMB said...

Why is The Americans on FX rather than Fox?

Because Fox is subject to tighter FCC regulation as a broadcast channel, and The Americans has extreme (though fully artistically justified) sex and violence?

Cap'n Bob said...

Hello, James Van Hise. I remember you from the RBCC. I did Comickazi and George way back when.

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

Terrence Moss said...
And he cancelled "enlisted" and "surviving jack" after launching them midseason without a real shot. But had already renewed the already in the ground "glee".

This. Two terrific shows with actual potential that were absolutely squandered. Surviving Jack was actually pulling respectable ratings (better than Mindy).

Don't let the door hit you in the ass...

VP81955 said...

I'm wondering if MacFarlane carried more weight at Fox than Reilly did, especially since three of his Sunday night series had good ratings. (But take NFL football out of the equation -- particularly the NFC East, with its large markets and huge team fan bases -- and MacFarlane doesn't look quite so imposing. And giving him a live action show would be like giving Chuck Lorre an animation project.

Rob said...

How long is it before the actors' contracts expire for Surviving Jack and Enlisted?

bennyp said...

I did an interview with Tartikoff a couple of years before he died and two things I remember from it. His worst flop of all at NBC was "Manimal." He also said the difference between running NBC to Paramount was the amount of BS he had to deal with was proportional to the size of the screen his product was being shown on.

A_Homer said...

I believe one new factor with tv programming is how much changed today due to being able to sell global screening rights early? Because a decade ago German / European stations, would still be showing dubbed re-runs ranging from Odd Couple, Home Improvement and Golden Girls, but never anything actually running current to the time. Today it's the opposite, almost only showing how they have the latest US "hit" programming, including Community, New Girl, Mindy Project, Happy Endings, Big Bang Theory, the latest cancelled Robin Winters show... meaning someone bought these ahead of time and invested money to dub them.
That must give some buffer zone to making lousy decisions, knowing you can sell anything to foreign markets, even non-hits that don't have enough episodes for syndication even.

blogward said...

Luck and karma - I wonder if the 2012/2013 troubles (phone hacking trials, divorce) of Rupert Murdoch, Fox chairman , might have impacted on Fox's ability to keep its eye on the ball. Indirectly, obviously, but if the boss is having a hard time everybody feels it somehow. Never mind quality, just get the product out there.

BigTed said...

It may be a 500-channel universe, but how many are actually mainstream entertainment channels showing new programming? There are 6 networks (including PBS), maybe 10 basic cable channels with new shows (although the majority of their programming is still syndicated reruns and old movies), and 3 or 4 pay cable channels (plus Netflix) with a few new series apiece. The vast majority of the dial is news, sports, religion, foreign-language channels, kids' channels, nostalgia channels, shopping channels and pay-per-view movies.

This doesn't negate Ken's point, but it is why I became a cord-cutter. If you're talking about new, mainstream entertainment programming that's potentially worth watching, it's a 20-channel universe at best.

Canda said...

Please let anonymous, obviously ignorant of facts, that Jeter is hitting .273, 2nd best among the Yankee starting regulars, and by season's end will have the 6th most hits in major league history.

Anonymous said...

Fox has had good comedies but they are not getting traction. Brooklyn 99 and enlisted are both better than new girl.

Katherine @ Grass Stains said...

I've been reading your blog for more than two years, and we agree on most of our TV likes and dislikes. I have to say, though, that I love The Mindy Project and that I'm grateful to Reilly for giving it an extended shot. Whether it was a pet project or not, I was so happy to get to see it continue. I, like so many others, found season 1 to be fairly uneven, but season 2 was just terrific in my opinion. I will add that I am a HUGE fan of Enlisted and am so glad that Fox is actually airing the final four eps rather than just shelving them altogether -- and I do hope that Enlisted finds a home on cable or in some other form. I hear Biegel is shopping it around. At any rate, I'm happy to agree to disagree with you on TMP ... I enjoy your blog so much and continue to respect your opinion!

Greg Ehrbar said...

Perhaps the networks have been led to believe that, instead of backing series that are well-written, well-acted, and have the potential for long running success, they keep looking for and supporting what they are being led to believe is a "voice."

Anonymous said...

>Jeter is hitting .273, 2nd best among the Yankee starting regulars,

So the rest of the team is even worse than Jeter? They must be getting lots of walks and defense(again not from Jeter) to make up for that batting average.

MikeN said...

Also, Fox should give Leno a show ASAP. Fallon's guest quality is dropping off, and he could probably be knocked off his perch.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Friday question: Ken, do you foresee one of the big broadcast networks ever just shutting down someday? Also, in the last 20-30 years, who's really been a long-lasting respected network president other than Moonves or Tartikoff? (I can't recall Grant Tinker's exact title/role.) Is being a network exec like being a baseball manager -- hired to be fired?

cshel said...

I love The Mindy Project, so I'm really happy it's been given a chance to continue.

chuckcd said...

Hopefully, one one of those other 498 networks picks up ALMOST HUMAN.