At last summer's press tour, critics appeared to smell blood in the water at FOX. For years, the network had followed a pattern of tanking in the fall, then roaring ahead to number one in the ratings almost entirely on the strength of "American Idol." But going into last season, "Idol" was an old show, one that had slipped in the Nielsens, and one that was about to reinvent its judging panel without Simon Cowell.
Instead, the J-Lo & Tyler-infused "Idol" was up in the ratings, FOX again easily won the season, etc., etc.
Still, that didn't stop the press from once again pointing at all the vulnerable spots on FOX's schedule at this summer's executive session. But it was hard to blame FOX entertainment president Kevin Reilly for taking on all the barbs with a "What, me worry?" attitude.
(Fienberg's live-blog has the full recap of the session.)
What of the various controversies over how "Glee" co-creator Ryan Murphy has treated both the press and his own actors over the news that Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer would be leaving the series after this season?
"I was extremely upset to learn about this on Twitter," Reilly joked, then insisted that the story had ben overblown and he still had absolute faith in Murphy and fellow creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. "Ryan is who he is and that's why I love him," he said, and promised a "back-to-basics season" relying less on guest stars and musical theme episodes. Also, the proposed spin-off about the three graduated characters - which Murphy claimed in one obnoxious interview he had killed largely because he didn't like something Colfer said on Twitter - was "still in the wind," and might be revived at some point.
Reilly appeared immediately after a strange, frequently awkward panel for "The X Factor," one in which judge Nicole Scherzinger seemed barely conscious, host Steve Jones bombed with every joke and whatever chemistry Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul once had on "Idol" was rendered moot by the uplink delay from the satellite feed featuring Simon - and also one where no one on the panel could really articulate the ways "X Factor" would distinguish itself from "Idol," "The Voice," etc. Most of the critics in the room seemed convinced it was a hot mess, but when I asked Reilly how he thought it went, he seemed surprised and said, "I thought it went pretty well. I loved it."
Given the amount FOX has hyped "X Factor," and the seemingly inexhaustible appetite for singing shows, the chances of the show utterly failing seem remote. Still, Reilly said he doesn't want the network to ever rely too much on one show, and that in the fall, "We've got multiple shows that could work."
One of the shows he cited as a potential breakout was the costly time travel adventure "Terra Nova," which at one point was going to debut very early in 2011, then this past May and has now been pushed to September. Given that critics still haven't seen a completed pilot, and that the special effects on that pilot keep getting tweaked, how does he expect that show to produce episodes on a weekly basis?
"They're right on schedule to where they need to be," Reilly said, saying he's seen five episodes now, and that, "Every drama is a big bet. There is no inexpensive drama on television."
In Kevin Reilly's mind, all is both hunky and dory at FOX. And until he's given concrete evidence otherwise - which the Nielsen ratings have yet to give - why should he think anything else?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com