Network committed to avoiding layoffs

Unlike several of its competitors, the Fox network doesn’t plan to make any major employee cuts — at least for now.

That’s according to Fox Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly, who told reporters Tuesday the net had found other ways to cut costs.

“This company is committed to not making massive layoffs,” Reilly said during Fox’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour at the Universal Hilton. “None are in the works right now. We’re a lean company in success, and that prepares us for hard times.”

NBC and CBS cut several execs last month; the Peacock also merged its network and studio programming teams, triggering more pinkslips. ABC is rumored to be mulling staff cuts and may merge its network and studio departments as well.

But at Fox, Reilly said the net had already made some tough cuts during last year’s work stoppage.

“Our bottom line was trimmed during the writers strike, and we didn’t let the line back out,” he said. “We’re pretty lean.”

But, he added, “Nobody’s getting off unscathed. Who knows how long (this economic slowdown) will last.”

Also at his press tour session, Reilly confirmed that, as had been speculated, this season will be the last for “Prison Break.”

Net has four episodes remaining from this season’s “Prison Break” order but is in talks with producers about adding a few more segs. Show will return to Fox’s sked Friday, April 17, at 8 p.m. for its final lap. Reilly promised a “very cool ending” to the series.

“It had a hell of a run; it’s just at the end of its run,” Reilly said. “We’ll put that one in the win column, but it got down to the point that a lot of stories had been told … I don’t want to gimp out (another season).”

In other scheduling news, the net said that its “American Idol” results show will air in its traditional Wednesday 9 p.m. slot after all. (It was originally believed that the “Idol” results would continue at 8 p.m., where the show will air early in the season.)

“Idol’s” Wednesday edition will move to 9 p.m. once the show reverts to its in-studio competition phase. That means new drama “Lie to Me,” which initially airing is behind “Idol” on Wednesdays at 9 p.m., will slide down to 8.

Fox noted that “Lie to Me” will face less powerful drama competish in the new slot.

Also, Fox announced new animated comedy “Sit Down, Shut Up” will air Sundays at 8:30 p.m., starting April 19.

And for now, reality skein “Moment of Truth” remains on the bench. “Fortunately, we have other options,” said Reilly, who added that the show could wind up on the air in the summer or could be utilized to fill a sked hole.

As for development, Reilly said the net is looking to improve on its lackluster perf in the live-action comedy arena; Fox plans to order five laffer pilots in the next few weeks.

“We’re down to a low pulse level on the live-action comedy brand,” Reilly said. “Until we have a show that can fire up a time period or we can find a show that can be compatible with ‘Idol,’ we’ll be a bit methodical.”

Ordering up another full season of “‘Til Death” was a pure economic play, Reilly said.

“You’re going to see every one of these companies make certain strategic decisions to address the economics,” he said. “We want to keep original programming on the air. At a certain deal, it makes sense for us in certain time periods.”

Among its comedy projects in development, the half-hour “Boldly Going Nowhere,” from the team behind “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” is headed back to the drawing board.

“Boldly” will be reworked and reshot in the fall for a potential launch in midseason 2010. That will give the team time to focus on their big “Sunny” order from FX before focusing their attention back on “Boldly.”

On the drama side, Fox will also pick up five drama pilots in the coming weeks.

Then there’s the Ron Moore space drama “Virtuality,” which is being re-edited. Reilly and team will then take another look and decide whether to greenlight it to series.

Reilly said the network continues to emphasize year-round development — hence the smaller pilot orders this go-round. Exec said the network will see “certain efficiencies over the long run” by picking up pilots throughout the year (by not having to bid against rivals for projects, for example).

Also still up in the air: Fox’s much-hyped “Remote-Free TV” limited commercial break experiment. Reaction from advertisers was mixed, but the net’s sales team was encouraged by the results, Reilly said.

Asked about NBC’s decision to replace scripted fare with “The Jay Leno Show” in the 10 p.m. hour in the fall, Reilly called it a “smart, strategic move for them in a very troubled place.”

“I give them a lot of credit for signing up Jay,” he said.

But Reilly — the former NBC Entertainment president who calls the Peacock “the crazy ex-wife I can’t get away from” — also pointed out that it was a reflection of how far the network had fallen.

“You look and say, for the network that was once a premiere brand for scripted television, that’s a little bit of a sad statement,” Reilly said. “Whether they make a go of it at a business level, we’ll see.”

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