There are press tour executive sessions full of announcements about renewals and cancellations, hirings and firings - news, in other words. Then there are sessions like the one FOX entertainment president Kevin Reilly just conducted, in which he left the fate of many shows and people - including "House," "Fringe," "Terra Nova," Ryan Seacrest and "X Factor" host Steve Jones - up in the air, while only clarifying the future (or lack therefor) of "Allen Gregory," which is kaput.
Back at summer tour, Reilly said a decision on whether this would be the final season of "House" - which has become more expensive and lower-rated in its old age - would have been made by now, but acknowledged that, " think we've just been avoiding it, to be honest with you." He said he and "House" creator David Shore have "agreed mutually to put it off until after the first of the year... We haven't had the big meeting about, 'What do we want to do?' We're going to size everything up. It's no secret, last year we said it was going to be a close call."
(You can read Fienberg's full live-blog of Reilly's session here.)
He dismissed any notion of a spin-off, or of attempting to continue the series on a drastically reduced budget, and said Shore would have adequate warning that he needs to build towards a series finale if that's what's coming.
"If this is going to be the last season, it's not going to be an unceremonious finish, I can tell you that," Reilly insisted. "There's no way David Shore is going to have the fans feel it wasn't properly capped off."
"Terra Nova" was also supposed to be decided on by now, since production of the time travel series needs to resume within the next month or so in order to get it on the air for next fall. Instead, Reilly admitted he's stalling on that as well. The ratings were decent, but the fan community didn't warm to it - our own Ryan McGee had many, many, many problems with it - and even Reilly acknowledged that "the show was hunting for itself creatively this season. I loved the cast, I loved some of the episodes and some of the ideas in there. But creatively, it was hunting."
Though much has been made of the cost of the show and how it might need to be around to recoup the cost of the two-hour pilot, Reilly said, "If this was all we produced, we made money on it, the studio made money on it."
Money is an even larger factor for "Fringe," which Reilly called "a point of pride," especially since FOX has developed a reputation for cancelling sci-fi shows.(*) The problem is that the ratings were never that good on Thursday, and have been significantly worse on Friday, and the show may not be sustainable for what it costs.
(*) As I often point out, FOX has that rep because it's the only network that consistently schedules sci-fi shows in the first place. Most new TV shows fail, regardless of genre, and this is the network that at least gave you some of "Firefly," "Dollhouse" and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," among many others.
"It's an expensive show. We lose a lot of money on the show. At that rating, on that night, it's almost impossible to make money on it," Reilly said, adding, "We're not in the business of losing money. We really have to sit down with that entity. We have to figure out if there's a number that makes sense." He then added that this wasn't his attempt to do a "soft cancellation" well ahead of the May upfronts, and begged, "Please don't start the letter writing campaign right now. I can't take it."
"The X Factor" was FOX's other big gun of fall, and while it didn't live up to Simon Cowell's hype, it still allowed the network to have one of its most successful falls ever, and will be back next season. It's unclear, though, whether all the on-camera talent - specifically robotic host Steve Jones and reviled judge Nicole Scherzinger - will be back with it, and Reilly hedged mightily on the subject of Jones.
"The hosting gig, the only thing I'll say is, as we know, it is a much harder job than meets the eye," he said. "Everyone here has come to realize the value of a Ryan Seacrest... Those jobs are very hard to do."
Seacrest's future with the network is also up in the air, but only because his contract is coming up and NBC is wooing him to have some kind of significant presence on the network doing interviews and possibly co-hosting "Today."
And while Reilly predicted that "American Idol" itself would be down in the ratings this season, he said it would be because of age, and not necessarily because "X Factor" and "The Voice" have oversaturated the market for singing competition shows.
Really, the only thing we know for sure is that "Allen Gregory" won't return. The network ordered several new animated series because they weren't certain how "The Simpsons" contract extension will go, but Homer and family will be back, "Bob's Burgers" has enough episodes ordered to continue into next season, and there's not enough real estate left.
Even with "Glee," Reilly gave specifics only to a point. Ryan Murphy and company have scrapped plans to do a spin-off about what Rachel, Kurt and Finn are up to after graduation, but there is now a secret plan to have the show continue to follow at least some of the graduates next season.
So there are a lot of decisions still to be made, and Reilly knows that some of those are going to upset his viewers and the people who have worked on the unlucky shows.
"I think it just comes to try to be respectful of the talent," he said on that point. "We are nothing without the talent. I don't create the shows. We don't write them. It is a very hard job. These are very special people who are vulnerable all the time. You respect the talent and you try to be straight with them, but the truth is, most of the time we are having to piss somebody off or disappoint them.
"We have to do things that are good for our schedule that are not necessarily always right exactly for a particular show," he added. "We have to let shows go that are breaking somebody's heart and dashing somebody's dream. We just try to be as transparent as we can with that, and respectful as we can."
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org