Fox’s Future Hangs On Jennifer Lopez, Simon Cowell And Lots Of Dinosaurs

At this time last year, Fox executives trotted Simon Cowell before the TV press to announce he’d be leaving American Idol after its ninth season.

A week ahead of it tenth season premiere, they’re greeting that same crowd to assure Cowell’s replacements, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, can carry the show.

They should hope so. Fox is coming off of a rough fall. The network finished dead last in total viewers among the major networks, and tied with NBC at No. 2 for advertiser-beloved 18 to 49-year-olds. For years, weak fall figures had become something of a norm care of baseball playoffs and the havoc they typically wreaked on the network schedule. But after reversing that trend a couple of years ago, Fox headed into the first part of the season with renewed enthusiasm. Then came the trifecta of lackluster baseball, aging hits and the ratings disaster that was Lone Star.

On stage for the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour Tuesday, Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly and his boss Peter Rice aren’t hiding their disappointment, particularly when it comes to heavily hyped and quickly canceled Lone Star.

In a refreshing display of candor, Reilly explains that they do not, in fact, have a crystal ball for what will succeed (Glee) and what will fail (Lone Star). “A hit and a failure are only a few strands of DNA apart,” he says. He also uses the opportunity to take issue with a frequent complaint that cable TV is the only place for great, bold television, a rationale employed by many reporters to explain Lone Star’s failure.

“The truth is it failed… it failed to meet the expectation that we had for it,” adds Rice. “But I’d much prefer to fail with a show that we’re creatively proud of than fail with a show that we’re embarrassed of.” (Fox still owns the remaining episodes and will look for a place to air them.)

Looking to the spring, Reilly and Rice now have little choice but to rely on Idol to do the sort of heavy lifting it has done in years’ past. Already, they’ve moved the aging juggernaut back a day, having it air on a more lucrative Wednesday-Thursday schedule, a move made possible by the strength of Tuesday linchpin Glee. (Advertisers are willing to pay a premium to try to reach viewers just before they engage in leisure activities over the weekend.)

Hoping to bolster that turn-around, the network will also lean on a collection of mid-season shows. Among them: Chicago Code, a cop show from The Shield creator Shawn Ryan; Traffic Light, a buddy comedy based on an Israeli format; and Bob’s Burgers, which debuted as part of Fox’s animation block to strong numbers Sunday.

Generating even more enthusiasm from the duo is next fall’s one-two punch with Simon Cowell’s Idol follow-up X Factor and Steven Spielberg’s epic dinosaur series Terra Nova, which will get a Glee-style sneak preview this May. (Despite reports of cost overruns, Rice says the latter remains on budget, noting that the show’s pricey sets and effects have been amortized over 13 episodes.) In addition to being broad, strong shows, they see the pairing of shows as their best bet yet for stabilizing the first half of the network’s season.

By: Lacey Rose (Forbes)

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