Fox's Peter Rice Seeks to Reassure

Fox Networks Group Chairman-CEO Peter Rice was pressed into TV Critics Assn. tour service on Sunday, what with Kevin Reilly having been let go as entertainment chief and his replacements, Dana Walden and Gary Newman, have been in the job about 15 minutes. Yet the exec spent the morning leaving doors open — on another day of “24,” or “Bones,” for example — while trying to reassure Hollywood’s creative community about the studio’s new vertically integrated network/studio alignment.

Placing both 20th Century Fox Television and the Fox network under the same executive duo, Rice said, is a way of telling the talent community, “You can speak to us with a single voice now.” He stressed that the studio would continue to sell to other networks, as it already does, and said of the more cohesive voice, “I think it’s going to be good for us, and I think it’s going to be good for creatives.”

Talent, of course, has historically been skeptical of such arrangements, fearing that a project the network passes on will find a chilly reception elsewhere. Still, Fox has experimented with a more centralized decision-making structure in the past, and Rice gave Walden and Newman a solid endorsement to shepherd along the transition.

Beyond that, Rice’s comments seemed designed to make as little news as possible. Yes, Fox is still committed to the notion of producing TV year-round — picking up Reilly’s push to discard “pilot season.” Yet during the scrum with reporters that followed, he was noncommittal regarding any sweeping changes, simply saying the network needs to be “flexible” and not locked into rigid guidelines.

Regarding individual programs, the banter was much the same. The executive loved the recent “24” reboot, but there have been no discussions of doing more. Similarly, “Bones'” fate hinges on the status of the show’s two stars, whose contracts don’t extend beyond the upcoming season.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Fox faces involves declining ratings for “American Idol” and the void left by its decision to cancel the network’s other musical talent competition, “The X Factor.” Rice suggested “Idol” is “aging gracefully” and that the show has settled down after having “played musical chairs with the judges” in a way that might have put off viewers. He also noted that the contestants haven’t caught on in the way they have in the past, and cited the obvious logjam of similarly themed series.

Rice elaborated slightly on the decision to scuttle the series “Hieroglyph,” saying the concept simply wasn’t coming together and that Walden and Newman, as heads of the studio behind it, were in on that call.

Rice has become one of 21st Century Fox/News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch’s most trusted lieutenants, but the network portion of his responsibilities clearly remains a rebuilding process going forward, during a time that, as Rice acknowledged, is one of transition for both the network and the TV industry. And as Jack Bauer can attest, the clock is always ticking.

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