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TCA press tour: Fox's Kevin Reilly talks about NBC's Jay Leno, the end of 'Prison Break' and why he renewed ''Til Death'

January 13, 2009 | 11:52 am

The divorce is final, but  will Fox President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly completely break free from NBC?

Reilly left his NBC presidential post 19 months ago, but the TV press can't help but bring up his ex-network every chance it gets. On Tuesday, Reilly, who has been at Fox for 18 months, was asked what he thinks of NBC's recent decision to forgo scripted programming at 10 p.m. to give Jay Leno a new comedy show five times a week.

"NBC, for me, is like the crazy ex-wife that I can’t get away from," Reilly quipped. "I give them a lot of credit for signing up Jay. I think that’s a smart strategic move for them coming from a very troubled place.  But stepping back, just looking at the facts, the network historically has struggled in establishing shows at 8 p.m.... For the network that was the premier brand for scripted television, that's a little sad."

That said, Fox would have loved to add Leno to its lineup, and was just waiting for him to be free of his contract with NBC to discuss terms,  Reilly said after the press conference. But NBC fought hard to keep its star, five years after executives decided it was time to push Leno aside to make room for Conan O'Brien, who will become the "Tonight Show" host in the summer.

Another breakup Reilly is facing is one that's been coming for a while: the end of "Prison Break." The action series, starring Wentworth Miller, will return on April 17 for its final run of four to six episodes. The show premiered in 2005 as a hit, but has progressively run out of steam.

"Creatively, the show’s just played out," Reilly said. "Creatively, everyone feels enough stories were told. We want to finish strong."

With pilot season around the corner, Reilly said he expects to pick up five drama pilots and five comedy pilots in the next few weeks. But Reilly admitted during the press conference that it's likely that no new comedies will premiere on Fox next fall.

Fox's "Do Not Disturb" had the distinction of being the first series to be canceled this fall, and that may inadvertently start a trend at Fox: Its only laughs will be provided by animated characters.  Reilly ordered 22 new episodes of "'Til Death," but those will not air until next fall, leaving Homer, Stewie and the gang to provide all the ha-has, along with the new animated series, "Sit Down, Shut Up," which premieres on April 19.

"I’ll say very frankly right now ... even if we have a show we love, if we don’t feel it’s protected, we’re not going to put it on the fall," he said. "People still love comedies when they work. 'Two and a Half Men' is not just a hit on CBS. It's the most successful show in syndication."

Reilly said he is looking for bold shows with a strong point of view.

"We're not going to loft down the middle," Reilly said. "We're going to try to hit that nerve again."

-- Maria Elena Fernandez