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Fox faces tough calls on dramas

Decisions on 'Terra Nova,' 'House' could come down to wire

“Terra Nova,” “House” and “Fringe” have life for now, but the clock is ticking.

Faced with tough decisions on a handful of series up against the precipice of cancellation, Fox entertainment topper Kevin Reilly told scribes at the Television Critics Assn. on Sunday that he needs to gather his exec troops and producers to determine which bubble shows will be given a new season and which will be given the ax.

The expensive freshman drama “Terra Nova” might be Reilly’s most pressing issue. Shot in Australia, the skein has done all right in the ratings — a 3.4 rating/9 share in the 18-49 demo and 9.7 million total viewers — but not as well as expected before the fall season began.

“The perception is that it got away from us, but the bar was set enormously high,” Reilly said. “If this is all we produced, we would have made money on it. The audience gave it ample opportunity to reject it and they didn’t.”

However, Reilly said: “We talked last year that there were chefs in the kitchen and that made for a challenge. Right now we’re looking at everything and having creative conversations.”

Because of the skein’s extensive special effects, production would have to begin by next month if Reilly decides to give “Terra Nova” new life for next fall.

As for “House,” which is currently in its eighth season, Reilly said all parties agreed to make a decision soon after Jan. 1.

“It’s hard to imagine the network without ‘House,'” said Reilly, who added that there are no plans for a spinoff to the David Shore-created medical drama. “It’s no secret it will be a close call.”

Because the show is produced by NBC’s Universal Television, the Peacock would have the option of bringing it back on its own net if Reilly cancels the show. NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said a few days ago at TCA that this scenario would be unlikely due to the show’s high costs.

If Fox does decide to say goodbye to the Hugh Laurie starrer, Reilly said Shore and his writers would be given ample time to give the series a proper send-off.

As for Warner Bros. drama “Fringe,” Reilly made it a point to say he wasn’t offering a “soft cancel,” but following his explanation that the show costs the net millions of dollars, its chances for renewal seem dim.

“It’s an expensive show and loses a lot of money,” Reilly said. “It’s impossible to make money on it and we’re not in the business of losing money.”

Reilly said each renewal or cancellation decision can’t be made in a vacuum. Before opting to cancel a show, he would like to have to have an opportunity to look at what might replace it. That is often impossible, however.

“There have to be trade-offs. We only have a finite amount of shelf space,” he said. “It’s the nature of the game, but we don’t feel like the fate of the network is riding on any of these decisions.”

As has been the case for the past decade, Fox is anticipating the debut of “American Idol,” which will preem Jan. 18. Now that Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler have established themselves and there won’t be that curiosity factor to bring in viewers, Reilly anticipates ratings for the 11-year series to subside.

“I expect it to be down this season. It’s the natural life cycle for that show,” he said.

Reilly admitted to upcoming changes for the net’s other musical competition series, “The X Factor,” but wouldn’t elaborate. Several have speculated that host Steve Jones would be departing, and possibly judge Nicole Scherzinger as well. Reilly defended Jones, saying hosting duties can often be more difficult that one would assume.

“It’s a much harder job than meets the eye,” Reilly said. “Whether Steve is the guy or not, that comes under the heading of growth in general, but there will be tweaks in the show.”

On the animation side, Fox announced it was creating a new toon division that will offer latenight programming on Saturdays beginning next January. Content will be created for the Internet and other digital platforms.

Reilly’s hope is that the division, to be run by Adult Swim vet Nick Weidenfeld, would be able to draw young-adult males away from NBC’s venerable “Saturday Night Live” and can also serve as a breeding ground for primetime — either as their own shows or wraparounds for other Fox programming.

Initially, “The Simpsons,” which will air its 500th episode Feb. 19, was a wrap-around for “The Tracey Ullman Show.”

In other programming news, low-rated “Allen Gregory” has officially been given its walking papers and a majority of the characters from “Glee” will graduate in May, with a new cast to arrive next season. No spinoff is planned.

Following the success of “New Girl,” Reilly remains excited about the possibility of bringing more multi-cam sitcoms to Fox — despite the critical backlash and modest ratings of “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.”

“I won’t give up on the format. I know some shows are excruciatingly bad, though I don’t mean any of ours are,” he joked. “Audiences clearly want to watch them again.”

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