Although FOX's freshly minted schedule contains the usual assortment of shuffling, flopping and fresh programming, network executives faced a very familiar run of questions to start their Monday (May 18) morning conference call with reporters, questions regarding a pair of sci-fi dramas.
Journalists, it seems, wanted to know about the renewal of "Dollhouse" and, to a slightly lesser degree, about the cancellation of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," both shows that did subpar ratings for the network this spring, but claim devoted fanbases.
FOX Entertainment President Kevin Reilly acknowledged that basic ratings for "Dollhouse," while fairly dismal, weren't the full reason for bringing the show back to its Friday night 9 p.m. ET home in the fall.
"First, it's a bet on creativity and that's something that never changed and I'm happy to say we're doing that. You know how inspired Joss Whedon is, it's a bet on Joss," Reilly said, noting that live viewership didn't necessarily tell the full "Dollhouse" story. "We feel our numbers are a marker for an audience that want to watch something... We did see a consistent uptick in the ratings for the live-seven. We did a 1.5 each week, consistently tuning up to a 2.0. That was a pattern for us that we liked, betting on Joss. I think you're gonna see it grow next season."
Reilly later added, "I'd venture to say that if we had put new shows on Friday night in particular, there'd probably be a lot of cynicism about 'Well wait, you're creating an entire new night of television?' Not to mention if we'd cancelled Joss' show, I'd probably have 110,000.000 emails this morning from fans.' So bet on something that has a core that you believe can work. It's better than taking a wild flier."
The show also appears to have a fan in Peter Rice, FOX's newly hired entertainment chairman, who comes from the feature world and Fox Searchlight.
"We think we can grow the show. The show became much stronger creatively during the course of the season," Rice told reporters. "Joss feels very energized about it and we believe in him as a creator. We had a lot of success in the past and we feel he can build the show and it can grow in a new season and that Friday is a good place for it to do it."
Jon Nesvig, FOX's president for sales, added another advantage to keeping FOX in the Friday business, saying, "Something that advertisers are pushing us for is to keep investing in scripted entertainment programming and the fact that we have a Friday night lineup of original scripted entertainment programming is great for our advertisers and it keeps us in that ballgame and we're investing in that product."
However, instead of pairing "Dollhouse" with "Terminator" again in a topically consistent Friday lineup, FOX will kick off the night with the new comedy "Brothers" and the returning comedy "'Til Death."
Of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," which energized fans with a bang-up second season finale, Reilly offered no real hope of reprieve.
"'Terminator' has completed its run," he bottom-lined. "I think it had a nice little run. It was not an either/or. We did see it tailing off a bit. It had a nice creative core, but ultimately we made the bet on 'Dollhouse' for the night and felt we had some other show that would make a better profile for the night. So that's it for 'Terminator.'"
Asked if a blockbuster theatrical run for "Terminator Salvation" might retroactively save "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," Reilly reiterated the show's demise.
"We looked at the ratings track on Monday, where it had a pretty consistent run and then on Friday where it moved to and that trend line was then ultimately decided it," Reilly said. "But we make no apologies for that show. We had a huge launch for that show. We gave it a lot of support and some consistent scheduling. We tried and felt it was time to move on."
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