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Fox chief scraps fall TV pilot season

on January 15, 2014 10:49 AM

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Fox’s entertainment chief said Monday he wants to blow up the way television has done business for generations because it often doesn’t work.

Kevin Reilly has taken a step in that direction by doing away with pilot season — the frantic period in the spring when broadcast networks make test episodes of dozens of potential new shows to put some on the fall schedule.

“Honestly, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the talent is able to produce anything of quality in that environment,” Reilly said.

Reilly said Fox has about 10 shows in various stages of development already, with episodes being written, and casting and shooting of episodes ready to go. One series well in the works is “Gotham,” which will follow Batman as a boy until he first puts on a cape.

Fox’s viewership is up 4 percent this year, but it is down among youthful viewers that represent its target audience, according to the Nielsen Co.

Some long-running shows such as “Glee” and “The X-Factor” are sharply down in ratings. But the success of the new shows “Sleepy Hollow” and “Master Chef Junior” has been a big help. Both already have been renewed for new seasons.

Traditional ratings are becoming increasingly meaningless, Reilly noted. The audience for “Sleepy Hollow” nearly doubles when time-shifted viewing is taken into account, he said. Fox is also finding that people who stream episodes on sites such as Hulu are often more attentive viewers.

Because of television’s traditional calendar, creators often find themselves rushing to get series ready during the summer and sometimes aren’t capable of making full 22-episode seasons, Reilly said.

“We want to have some maneuverability,” he said. “We don’t want to be bound by a premiere date and wind up having to change a wheel at 60 mph.”

Veteran TV comedy producer Bill Lawrence, creator of “Scrubs,” “Spin City” and the upcoming Fox comedy “Surviving Jack,” said that when the network picks up a pilot, suddenly producers have about two weeks to pull together a cast and staff for something they’ve spent two years making.

“The message to shake things up a little bit is great,” Lawrence said.

Producers of “Sleepy Hollow” aren’t waiting for the summer to get ready for a new season. They start shooting again in March, Reilly said.

Fox has already said it is stretching television’s calendar and will be premiering a miniseries revival of “24” in May to air into the summer.

Taking a page from cable, Reilly said the idea of shorter seasons makes sense for many series, particularly dramas.

Speaking of some individual shows, Reilly said he expects “Bones” to be back next year.

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