Fox: In a state of excessive plenty

This is a busy time at the Television Critics Association sessions. Here's a story I sent to papers about Fox:


Life is very difficult – well, maybe
a little difficult – for a first-place TV network.

“We have some high-class problems,”
said Kevin Reilly, Fox's programming chief.

Now those problems grow. There are
major shows – “House,” “Terra Nova,” “Fringe” – he
might not bring back next year; there are people trying to copy or
pillage pieces of “American Idol.”

Those problems expand because Fox has:

– Fewer spaces. It was created with
15 hours of primetime hours (instead of 22) to duck federal rules.

– Expensive shows. For “Terra Nova”
and “Fringe,” there are big-budget special effects. “House”
follows the TV habit of costs expanding as shows get oplder.

– Success. Fueled mainly by its own
“Idol” clone (“The X Factor”), Fox's Nielsen rating for the
first 15 weeks of this season were up 14-15 percent. CBS is up a tad,
ABC is even, NBC and CW plunged.

This mid-season brings three more
high-concept dramas – “Alcatraz” (from the “Lost” people),
“Touch” (from “Heroes” creator Tim Kring) and “The Finder”
(created so “Bones” can trim back to make room for Emily
Deschanel's maternity leave).

A series surplus is growing. Last year,
Reilly drew criticism for dumping “The Chicago Code,” “Human
Target” and “America's Most Wanted.” This year? “We've done a
good job of avoiding some of these decisions,” he said.

He's sure of a few things: “Allen
Gregory” won't be back, “New Girl” will be. “Glee” will be
back, but won't add a sequel; the characters who graduate –
including Rachel (Lea Michele) – will stay.

Other shows bring questions, including:

– “House.” Last summer, Reilly
implied that this season – its eighth – would be its last on Fox.
Now? “We just simply haven't made the decision.” If the show
isn't brought back, he said, he'll give it enough warning to have a
finale – except that “House” still could jump to NBC – which
produces it.

– “Terra Nova.” Reilly praised
its epic visuals and its cast, but not its storytelling. “The show
was hunting for itself creatively through the season.” Ratings were
fairly high; costs were very high.

– “Fringe.” Many critics and
science-fiction fans have loved the show, but it was renewed for this
season only by being exiled to Fridays, a difficult night. “We lose
a lot of money on that show,” Reilly said. “At that rating, on
that night, it's almost impossible for us to make money.”

By comparison, “American Idol”
remains on top. Reilly does expect it to drop in ratings this year,
as viewers digest NBC's “The Voice” and “America's Got Talent”
and Fox's own “The X Factor.”

Some shows even loot talent. Ryan
Seacrest, the “Idol” host, already has a deal with one of NBC's
cable networks (E). He said he's negotiating with NBC, but wouldn't
comment on what a deal might include or preclude. “I can't imagine
life without 'American Idol,'” he said.

Other shows tend to hire “Idol”
people. “X Factor” has Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul as judges;
“The Voice” is adding Kelly Clarkson – the first “Idol”
champion – as a mentor.

“This show ('Idol') has created
superstars (and) other shows want to use those superstars,” said
Mike Darnell, Fox's alternative-show chief. “We're not hiring a lot
of people from 'The Voice.'”