TCA: Fox’s Kevin Reilly ‘Frustrated’ by Standards for Cable Hits, Wants Patience With ‘Dads’

Reilly urged journos to include 'context' in their reporting of ratings, dubbed it important for 'accuracy' in today's TV biz

Kevin Reilly

In one of the most lively exec sessions yet at this summer’s TCA confab, Fox chairman Kevin Reilly displayed a series of detailed ratings breakdowns for his shows and, while comparing them to the viewership of cable’s critical darlings, remarked, “It’s frustrating that the word ‘hit’ is attached to those [cable] shows without any asterisk.”

“It’s fair competition, and I don’t think we’re a bastard step child or a broken system, but I do get frustrated when I see a network success with an asterisk next to it, as if it’s a modest success, like with ‘The Mindy Project,'” Reilly explained to journos. “‘Mindy’ was a 2.2 rating … I saw some muted response to it as if it was a middling performer.”

Reilly pointed to the screens displaying viewership data for “Mindy Project,” which ranked above the ratings for cable shows including “Breaking Bad,” “Louie” and “Dexter” in adults 18-49.

“You’d have to combine ‘Louie’ and ‘Girls’ to get close to the ‘Mindy’ rating,” noting that those programs are dubbed a “hit” even though “Mindy” outperforms them.

Reilly’s frustrations, which he tends to be quite vocal about during exec sessions, did not end there.

The topper noted that broadcast nets are “bound by practices that were born in a different era,” including the notion of a 35-week season.

“Last I checked, there were 52 weeks in a year,” said Reilly, who wants to do away with the term “midseason” entirely, a phrase he calls “arbitrary.”

“We’re going to be more in a 12-month roll out,” he remarked.

A 12-month roll out means de-emphasizing the need to launch shows in the fall and January, and staggering the debuts of programs throughout the year, including summer. Reilly also aims to decrease the number of reruns aired on Fox, relegating those to digital platforms where there can be a “better consumer experience” and the content can be better monetized.

One hot topic during Reilly’s exec session was Seth MacFarlane series “Dads,” which has been largely panned by critics after the pilot was distributed earlier this summer. The network chief asked for patience with the series, even going so far as to pull from his sports jacket a sheet of paper that included a list of early negative reviews for shows including “The Big Bang Theory” from when they initially launched.

“Some people thought that show was hideous,” Reilly remarked, noting the skein went on to be a hit and widely enjoyed by the TV community.

” ‘Dads’ is a pilot,” Reilly continued. “You know the lineage of those writers. They come out of ‘Family Guy.’ They’re the next generation of comedy writers. … They’re going to try to test a lot of boundaries and be equal-opportunity offenders. Are all the jokes calibrated? No.”

He acknowledged that some of the content on “Dads” is indeed offensive and needs tweaking, but that the press should “take it to task” in January should the series not evolve by then.

While Reilly remained characteristically hush-hush on the gritty details of “American Idol,” which has seen a huge turnover on its judge panel within the last handful of months, the exec did admit the show “became too much about the judges.”

“We want some comfortable judges who will make it comfortable and fun to view,” Reilly said, mentioning that Keith Urban is a lock to return for “Idol’s” forthcoming season. He will be the only judge to return to the table after last season’s panel of Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson and Urban.

Reilly also addressed the death of “Glee” star Cory Monteith, offering details on the third episode of the musical dramedy, which will address Monteith’s death and his character, Finn Hudson. Reilly called Lea Michelle, Monteith’s co-star and girlfriend, a “pillar of strength” who was the “first to say, ‘I want to get back to work.’ ” Episode three of “Glee’s” fall run will including PSAs shot with Ryan Murphy and the “Glee” cast that Reilly believes will be “very impactful.”