Reilly: Fox may lose 18-49 crown next season

Network chief says CBS could top demo in 2012-13

Fox could cede its 18-49 ratings crown to CBS in the coming season, the network’s entertainment president, Kevin Reilly, acknowledged at the network’s executive session at the TV Critics Assn. press tour Monday, but he still likes the looks of his schedule.

Citing an Eye lineup that will include the Super Bowl and the AFC championship game in the middle of the 2012-13 season, Reilly speculated that the massive auds those events bring could be enough to give CBS an edge in the all-important demographic Fox typically wins.

“We may not win the season this year,” said Reilly during the Q&A with reporters. “We’ve had it a record eight years in a row, but I can tell you it’s going to be close.”

The pre-emptive concession was one of only a few downbeat moments in Reilly’s otherwise confident overview of his primetime schedule. He was most optimistic about the Tuesday night comedy lineup that he’s been trying to build for a few years. With new comedies “Ben and Kate” and “The Mindy Project” joining “Raising Hope” and last year’s rookie hit “New Girl,” he said the network’s four-comedy block would build on what returning series “Glee,” which is moving to Thursday in the fall, did for Tuesday last season.

For “Mindy,” Reilly made the unusual gesture of thanking rival programming chief Robert Greenblatt at NBC, which is producing the new half-hour out of sister studio Universal Television and sold it to Fox rather than put the series on its own schedule.

“It just so happens Bob made a smart business decision,” he said. “There was nothing controversial about it. He wanted to supply the town and he wasn’t interested in it.”

Reilly believes “Girl” sets the template for what a hit series can do for Fox because of its appeal across demographics. He credited the series for both bringing a new young female skew to the network while also sitting well with the network’s traditional male aud.

Reilly sees primetime particularly ripe for new hit series given the departure of longtime staples like Fox’s “House.” He said new audiences have historically made a habit of embracing freshman programming when departing hits leave a vaccuum on the air. “Now it’s our job to repopulate it,” he said.

He lamented that repeats continue to be a ratings drag across all of the broadcasters’ lineups, a trend that has only accelerated as networks train auds to catch up online to watch missed episodes. He indicated the network will be promoting “New Girl” on digital platforms for viewers who have yet to sample the series.

While Reilly acknowledged that digital platforms are changing in the game in TV, he was quick to remind that broadcast is the launch pad that drives the momentum for programming on later windows. Citing Fox’s modest success with series like “Fringe” on Friday, one of several nights that are becoming increasingly difficult to aggregate mass eyeballs, he hinted the network will experiment in parts of primetime you might not expect. “Even our toughest night is a valuable night,” he said.

As for “Glee,” Reilly is betting that setting part of the series in New York going forward, where some of the graduating characters will reside, will breath some fresh air into the series. He said he was encouraged by the first three scripts executive producer Ryan Murphy handed in and that the series will strike a balance between a returning core of characters and older alums who will continue to return on a periodic basis.

“Because we have a good relationship with the actors, the idea is to keep that relationship where it can be fluid, an event for the audience as to who will show up when,” he said.

In other tidbits from the sesh:

n Fox has ordered a fourth season of Shine America’s “MasterChef”

n New sitcoms “The Mindy Project” and “Ben and Kate” will get online previews for two weeks beginning Aug. 27 in advance of their Sept. 25 on-air premieres. And 24 episodes of the frosh season of “New Girl” will be available on Yahoo starting July 30.