Fox sets sight on No. 1

Network focuses on self, not rival

The battle between Fox and NBC has been brutal in recent months, as the two nets sparred over dueling karaoke shows and, more recently, Fox hired deposed Peacock entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly.

But with Reilly sitting to his right, Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori told TV Critics Assn. members Sunday morning that NBC wasn’t even on his radar.

“Our sights are not set on the No. 4 network,” Liguori said. “Our sights are set on the No. 1 network and creating a greater distance between us and the No. 2 network. We tend to spend more of our time reestablishing this network and in really concerning ourselves with Fox — and not getting caught up in things that are a waste of time.”

The summer press tour session repped the first time the execs shared the stage since 2003, when both held similar positions at FX. Reilly, who joined Fox as entertainment president earlier this month — and has only been on the job a week — said he bore no ill will toward the NBC shows that he had nurtured before being abruptly sacked over Memorial Day.

To which Liguori quipped, “I won’t hold Kevin to that — I want them all to be bloody failures, let me be clear.”

For Reilly, his new Fox gig reps the second time he’s joined a network and inherited unfamiliar shows that he’ll now oversee. The exec said the situation is “awkward,” and that he’ll tread carefully before bursting on the scene with his own stamp.

“The good news is I’m not getting behind the wheel here feeling like the wheels are about to come off,” Reilly said. “I’m not replaying that scenario again. There’s really promising stuff here. I don’t want to come in and start spewing opinions all over the place. I’m going to be low impact. We’re in good hands, so I can really begin to look strategically.”

At the same time, Reilly said he saw the Fox job as an unexpected opportunity at a second chance to play network programming chief.

“It’s very rare you get to learn on the job, then get to have a do over,” Reilly said. “That’s the part on the broader sense that I’m excited about… This is going to be an environment that brings out the best in me and the people working in those suites with me.”

Although Reilly has upgraded from the fourth- to first-place web, as entertainment president he still faces challenges in the coming months — particularly Fox’s yearly struggle to gain series traction in the fall prior to the return of “American Idol.”

“Kevin came into this eyes wide open, we have to do better in the fourth quarter,” Liguori said. “And Kevin’s addition will help us do better in the fourth quarter. Having a sense of positive energy at the place by no means covers up the job we have in front of us.”

Liguori noted that although Fox will face fewer baseball preemptions in fall — possibly helping its cause — the net still bows without its full arsenal (notably, “Idol” and “24”).

“We don’t enjoy holding back and not coming out in the fourth quarter with all of our arms,” he said. “But I think we’ve got a schedule that plays to all of our strengths.”

As for Reilly’s NBC departure, Peacock Entertainment co-chairman Marc Graboff drew chuckles from critics last week when he told the press that Reilly hadn’t been fired. Technically, that was true — but the delineation amused reporters, who asked Reilly whether he thought he was fired.

“No one’s ever really fired in Hollywood,” Reilly said. “Pick any trade euphemism you want,” he added, before listing a bunch, including the classic, “I wanted to spend more time with my family.”

“Which I did,” he joked, ” For three days.”

After the formal session, Reilly told reporters that Graboff wasn’t simply being a lawyer when he said Reilly technically wasn’t fired.

“He was being honest about all this,” Reilly said, adding that the NBC U exec “was really upstanding about how this was all handled.”

Reilly also hinted that he’d like to see Fox and other networks continue the move toward year-round programming, perhaps by having shows start in spring and continue during the summer.

“I’d like us to get off this idea of a season altogether,” he said.

Other Fox press tour news:

  • Fox will cut a scene from its “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” pilot that depicted a school shooting. “That scene was shot before Virginia Tech,” Liguori said. n The fate of Fox reality guru Mike Darnell is still up in the air, but Liguori said he still hoped to keep the exec in place.

“We’re actively talking, and Mike will have an announcement soon,” Liguori said. “We want Mike at Fox. I personally enjoy working with him. We look forward to having Mike for a number of years at Fox. He’s a really important part of what makes this network stand out.”

  • Liguori joined his network brethren in expressing concern over a labor strike.

“A lot of complicated issues have come up,” Liguori said. “We all hope there’s no strike, and that there’s a fair and equitable solution that recognizes the contributions of creatives and the businesses that breed the creative.”

  • Fox has greenlit new seasons for summer successes “Hell’s Kitchen” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” Both skeins will return for their fourth installments in 2008.

  • “The Simpsons” has lined up another stellar batch of guest stars for its upcoming 19th season. Among the more interesting names: Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, MTV’s Kurt Loder, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Other guests include Jack Black, Lionel Richie, Maya Rudolph, Placido Domingo, Matt Dillon and “Frasier” stars Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce.

  • Season finale of “24” will be carbon neutral, with the show’s producers implementing a number of changes in the production in order to meet that goal. Series star Kiefer Sutherland and other cast members will also appear in a series of green PSAs.

  • In another “24” note, Tony winner Cherry Jones will play the president during season seven.

  • As expected, net has also reupped “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” for another batch of 13 segs (Daily Variety, July 19).

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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