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TCA: Fox aims for repeat-free sked

Net orders 'Cosmos' docu series produced by Seth MacFarlane

Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly is aiming to have a repeat-free primetime schedule, a goal fueled by his prediction that the network will “have success in every genre,” as he put it to the TCA press tour on Friday.

That ambition is a reflection of several big bets Fox is placing on its fall schedule, from the introduction of Simon Cowell vehicle “The X Factor” and dinosaur drama “Terra Nova” to the return of sophomore sensation “Glee,” which has been shrouded in controversy in recent months.

Regardless, Reilly envisions seeing enough viable series to keep Fox in originals not only six nights a week — Saturday will remain a repeat haven — from September to May but into the summer, where Reilly also plans on stepping up the network’s efforts next year.

“We’re not a one-show network,” Reilly said. “I want to be a year-round network.”

Reilly cited the existence of repeats in primetime as the TV business’ biggest problem because while the industry’s economics are dependent on second airings of episodes, viewers have thoroughly abandoned them, particularly because digital video recorders have become so pervasive in U.S. homes.

Also addressed was the hubbub that has enveloped returning drama “Glee” in light of published reports that three of its most prominent cast members were due to leave the show at the end of the season and possibly star in their own spinoff, which Reilly said hasn’t been ruled out entirely but isn’t being actively considered. Reilly dismissed the controversy as much ado about nothing and hyped the coming season for going back to basics with strong narrative arcs for its characters instead of the guest stars and musical tributes that were rife during the previous season.

Reilly signaled that the upcoming season of “House” is likely to be its last, though he acknowledged that its studio, Universal Media Studios, could opt to shop the show elsewhere given that star Hugh Laurie has another year left on his contract. “My sense is this is a show that wants to be creatively vibrant, going out strong, not limp along for four more years to be a vestige of what it was,” he said.

Reilly dismissed the notion that Fox’s performance in the fourth quarter, which hasn’t always been its strongest period, is entirely dependent on the performance of “The X Factor.” Even if the ballyhooed series doesn’t live up to its hype, Reilly said Fox is in good shape. “If that does half of what we could hope it can in the fall, Fox will be really difficult for the other guys to reckon with,” he said.

He also played down the risk inherent in “Terra Nova,” which he conceded is on the expensive side but, amortized across the run of its 13-episode order, not unduly so. In addition, Reilly said its cost, which he didn’t specify, was being offset by healthy activity in the upfront marketplace and international sales.

As part of Reilly’s all-original plan, he reiterated his goal to turn Tuesday into an all-comedy block in March when “Glee” would otherwise have to go into repeats. However, he hasn’t settled on which shows would join returning comedies like “Raising Hope,” though the Rob Corddry pilot “Little in Common” is about to go into production and even the canceled frosh comedy “Breaking In” has a slim chance of returning to the night.

On the drama development front, Reilly said he’s high on the Kiefer Sutherland pilot “Touch” but hasn’t determined when it will join the schedule. Other hours sitting on the bench for midseason include J.J. Abrams’ “Alcatraz” and “Bones” spinoff “Finder.”

Fox greenlighted “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey,” a sequel of sorts to Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” the 1980 docu series that was once public television’s highest-rated series. Seth MacFarlane, the creator of three current Fox animated series, including “Family Guy,” is the unlikely executive producer of the 13-part project, which will document the history of the universe utilizing cutting-edge special effects.

MacFarlane is reuniting with the original producers behind “Voyage,” Ann Druyan and Steven Soter, to reconceive the project. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson will host.

National Geographic Channel will produce the project as well and rebroadcast each episode the same night it airs on Fox.

Reilly acknowledged “Cosmos” is an odd fit for the network, which he said was precisely its appeal. “That’s kind of what I love about it,” he said. “It’s a very unique property.”

But he also acknowledged “Cosmos” isn’t likely to be put in a competitive timeslot when it’s ready to go in 2013 given that he sees it less as a ratings play than as an asset that will drive value across News Corp. given that it may have a feature-film component as well.

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