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"Idol" Chatter: FOX's Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice Address the Press

Not surprisingly, the topic of conversation at today's Television Critics Association FOX executive session with Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice drifted inevitably to Paula Abdul's recent announcement that she would be leaving American Idol.

Reilly and Rice attempted to get this hot topic out of the way at the very start of FOX's presentation this morning, with Rice stating, "Everyone is aware that Paula is not returning to American Idol and we are sad to see her go."

Was that enough to quell the fervor of reporters clamoring for some insight into what is going on behind the scenes to replace Abdul, whether she was actually leaving Idol, and what producers planned to do in the meantime with auditions slated to begin this week? Hell no.

"Paula’s the only member of Idol whose contract is up right now," said Rice. "We very much wanted her to return... In the past few weeks, the negotiation has sort of come to a conclusion. We made an offer that we feel was very fair to Paula. It was a substantial raise on her salary in the past... It [was announced] only 36 hours ago, so we don’t have big announcements of what we’re going to."

Rice went on to say that the network is focusing on the audition process and that a rotation of guest judges will fill in during each of those auditions. "We will come up with a more permanent solution... before January... and a replacement for Paula," said Rice. "We are very sad that she’s not coming back... We are looking forward to this season... [and] there’s also something exciting about it.

Asked to address rumors that Abdul's departure was part of a negotiation tactic, Rice clarified the network's position, saying, "It is our understanding that we have concluded our negotiations and Paula is not coming back."

The format for next season is still up in the air, but it's thought likely that it will feature four rather than three judges. "We will probably have four judges back," said Rice.

"The finale was probably the best one we’ve ever done," said Reilly. "It was a great moment for Kara."

As for those guest judges previous mentioned, there are two people confirmed so far: Katy Perry and Victoria Beckham. These guest judges will do one week apiece during the auditions, said Rice. There are no expectations on the part of FOX that any of these judges will be long-term. "We have until January to introduce a different energy to the panel," said Rice.

To clarify the contract situation further, Rice said that Ryan Seacrest is still in his old contract on Idol. Kara’s contract hadn’t expired, but rather FOX had picked up her option. It was only Abdul’s contract that had actually expired.

"Our expectation and hope was that Paula would come back," said Rice. "When her current agent made the statement to the press about two weeks ago we started to think what will we do. There are no contingencies."

Reilly, speaking about whether Abdul could simply be replaced, pondered, "Could Walter Cronkite ever be replaced?" He went on to list such notable cast evolutions/changes as Cheers' Sam and Diane becoming Sam and Rebecca and Dick Wolf changing up Law & Order a number of times.

"There is going to be a change and we need to look at that as a positive change," said Rice. "We have to look at it as an opp for the show to bring a different energy to it and be really entertaining for the audience. People are really engaged and interested in how the show is going to evolve after Paula leaves."

The final word on Idol came from Reilly: "It sounds trite but it is ultimately about the contestants."

Kevin Reilly, meanwhile, spoke about the "young schedule" that FOX is offering this fall, which has "more stability than we’ve had" in a long time. He pointed towards the unusual decision to air three hours of So You Think You Can Dance this fall, which will "mirror the schedule we’ll have in the second half of the season." Reilly feels that SYTYCD is the "perfect springboard for Glee," which returns this fall after airing its pilot episode in the spring.

FOX has ordered an eighth season of reality competition series Hell's Kitchen and announced that live cooking special Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live would air on Tuesday, December 15th at 9 pm ET/PT.

Reilly was also excited about the network's decision to schedule appointment viewing dramas on Thursdays and said of Fringe that the “way it comes back is really sharp.”

"It’s been a long-term evolution of the network... getting those scripted shows on Thursday," said Reilly. "We have established shows at 8 jump-starting the night every night of the week... We need to have fall success. If we can be stable and competitive, and add a series or two that will get the back nine, that’s great."

Reilly also pointed towards improvements with procedural drama Lie to Me now that The Shield creator Shawn Ryan has come on board. "The production value is better," said Reilly about the series' second season. "Characters are starting to flourish."

Reilly said that the Save Dollhouse campaign ("you mean the one that started before we made any of the show?") "factored in from a more positive place... They nurtured the show and stuck with it. They are there with Joss and that’s what gave us such a positive cumulative rating...

"Joss is an incredible creator of TV shows," countered Rice, "and the show got better and better as the season went on."

As for what fans should expect from Season Two of Dollhouse this fall, Rice and Reilly were candid about the fact that things had greatly improved and that the series would just get better and better.

So what's Joss' mandate for Season Two? "Keep doing what he’s doing," said Rice of what Whedon would do for Dollhouse's sophomore season. "That is really the gift of Joss... he was open about those hiccups. In the second half, he really found the show and started having fun with it... It’s going to be much smoother sailing this year.”

Reilly said that music-themed dramedy Glee "performed right in line with our expectations" and was a "marketing stunt to a certain extent [that] ended up being very successful." He referred to their decision to air the pilot for Glee in the spring as "markers for something we are going to employ more frequently.

"This is a show we knew all along [would go over well]," said Reilly. "It’s got music but it’s not a musical, it’s got humor but it’s not comedy, it’s sweet but it’s not saccharine. It’s got Ryan Murphy subversity."

FOX said that they plan to repeat the pilot again this fall ahead of Glee's series launch.

"There’s something happening with the show," said Reilly, recounting the massive reaction Glee got at last month's Comic-Con. "We are very confident that there is a core audience for this show that is going to be there. We are not expecting it to be the biggest phenomenon of the fall. All in all, we like [the] strategy [we used] and it worked very well."

"It’s not saccharine but you leave every episode feeling upbeat and positive," he said later. "The show has its heart in the right place. [Murphy has a way to] keep people moving back and forth between something that is subversive... and something that is quite sweet and aspirational."

Rice revealed that the network has wrapped production on thirteen episodes of Glee.

FOX has not yet committed to airing Futurama, which has a second window on Futurama, but won’t rule it out either.

Reilly said that there are currently no plans to air either the final six episodes of King of the Hill or Season Two of unscripted series Moment of Truth. "It’s really unlikely," he admitted.

Asked about NBC's decision to air Jay Leno five nights a week at 10 pm, Reilly was candid about the likely results.

"I think the Leno thing you are going to have to look at holistically," admitted Reilly. "Some nights he’s not up against much competition." Reilly said that we'd see major tapering in the second half of Leno's shows and that this will majorly impact local news lead-ins. "Overall ratings impact, they are going to struggle at 8, and [there's] not a lot of powerhouses at 9," said Reilly about NBC.

And it wouldn't be a FOX executive session without Reilly being still haunted by his dealings at NBC with now former co-chairman Ben Silverman.

"It hasn’t affected Fox for the last two years and I don’t think it will affect it for the next two," said Reilly on whether Silverman’s departure from NBC would affect FOX. "I wish him well. I enjoyed working with him as a producer."


Did Reilly really compare Paula Abdul to Walter Cronkite? Scary.
Chris R said…
I actually really like Paula Abdul.

And she pretty hot for a mature woman.

I will miss her.
avenir labs said…
A much better move for paula........

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