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Kevin Reilly: Fox To ‘Bypass’ Pilot Season This Year

Exec outlines strategic shift in thinking to avoid confusion in creative community

Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly has vowed to “bypass” pilot season this year as part of the network’s ongoing effort to develop and produce series on a year-round basis.

“RIP pilot season,” Reilly said in the opening remarks of his exec sesh Monday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.

The traditional system of “broadcast development and scheduling system was built in a different era,” Reilly said. “It’s nothing short of a miracle that talent is able to produce anything of quality in that environment. We think there’s a better, more talent-friendly and consistent way to do it.”

Reilly also used the TCA soapbox to emphasize the dramatic changes in the nature of ratings measurement and the ways people are watching television. He noted that in the past year, VOD viewing of Fox programming is up 44% and streaming via the Hulu platform is up 55%. All of this activity makes it more challenging to gauge the true audience for a given program, and he commended scribes for making strides in reporting overnight ratings numbers with appropriate caveats.

In many cases, shows rack up significant viewing numbers even a month after a program’s initial telecast.

“The 30-day tail is becoming very, very big and consistent, particulary on VOD,” he said.

Reilly emphasized that the changes in the competitive landscape with cable and in the ways people watch television these days make it nonsensical to continue with the tradition of jamming pilot production into a few months.

To back up his point, Reilly ticked off nine projects that are either in production or prepping for go before the cameras, including limited series “Wayward Pines” and “Gracepoint.” He also cited numerous high-profile pilots that have multiple scripts working with the intention of staffing up prior to the spring pilot pickup crunch in order to get a leg up on attracting top talent.

“I’m not making declarations about what anyone else should do. For Fox I think we can build a more talent-friendly way of doing this …that will give us more maneuverability and more scheduling and marketing flexibility.”

Speaking with reporters later, Reilly said he made a point of articulating the changes at Fox to counter confusion in the creative community about whether Fox was pulling back on development spending because the net will not be ordering as many pilots in the coming weeks as it usually does. Reilly said he will also be handing out a few orders in the coming week that will be for projects designed to shoot in July or September — far removed from the typical February-April pilot production cycle.

He also stressed the need for network TV shows to be given longer lead times in production and, particularly in the case of mythos-rich serialized shows, shorter orders than 22.

“Shows that are highly complex just benefit from a more compact (production). It’s really the rare creator who can tell you where it ends at the end of a season of 22 episodes,” Reilly said. “The challenge is that with really talented people who are sleeping four hours a night and managing $100 million machine with hundreds of people producing it — you can lose your way. When you’re doing 13 you just feel like you have a little bit more control of the ship.”

Other tidbits from the session:

** Reilly was noncommital regarding the fate of “The X Factor.” If the competition show comes back, “It will not be in the current form it is now.” He said a decision would come down in the next month.

** He’s “bullish” on the prospects of a third season for “The Mindy Projects” despite middling ratings. He noted that the aud is highly upscale, which helps make the case for renewal.

** Enduring drama “Bones” is likely to come back for a 10th season in 2014-15 but it will likely the last.

** Reilly spoke matter-of-factly about the upcoming sixth season of “Glee” being the last for the tuner dramedy. Co-creator Ryan Murphy has a master plan for shifting the focus of the show to New York for the second half of this season and then wrapping up all of the story lines in a final season.

** The scheduling of the Seth MacFarlane-produced docu series “Cosmos” on Sunday nights starting in March was meant to give the show as a high a profile as possible with students. Fox is doing a big outreach campaign with high schools and the hope is the program, about science and the nature of the universe, will pique interest in careers in science.

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