ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT ENVELOPE COMPANY TOWN

Fox acknowledges need for new hits after disappointing season

'We need some new hits,' Fox Networks chief Peter Rice tells TV critics

The marching orders for Fox Broadcasting's new entertainment team from its boss is simple.

"We need some new hits," said Peter Rice, chairman and chief executive of the Fox Networks Group at the semiannual Television Critics Assn.'s press tour in Beverly Hills on Sunday. "That will be our focus."

Fox is coming off a season in which it endured steep declines both in overall viewers and in the key 18-to-49-year-old demographic that advertisers covet. Only two of Fox's new shows from last season -- the horror drama "Sleepy Hollow" and the comedy "Brooklyn 99" -- survived.

And many of Fox's returning shows experienced ratings declines this past season, including "Glee," "New Girl," "The Mindy Project" and, most importantly "American Idol."

Last week, Rice installed a new leadership team at Fox Broadcasting in the wake of the surprise departure of Kevin Reilly, the network's longtime entertainment chief. Reilly left at the end of May after the network finished a disappointing season and unveiled to advertisers a fall schedule that was met with lukewarm reaction.

Rice said Reilly's departure was a personal choice and not a reflection of his performance at the network.

"He chose to step down," Rice said.

As part of a broad restructuring of the TV operations at parent 21st Century Fox, the creative decisions at Fox Broadcasting will now be overseen by Gary Newman and Dana Walden, the co-chairmen of 20th Century Fox Television, the studio that is one of the largest suppliers of prime-time television content.

Rice hopes that by putting Newman and Walden over Fox Broadcasting it will make for better teamwork between the network and studio.

"We can open up a bigger tent for the creative community," Rice said, adding that the network now won't be just another buyer in the eyes of 20th Century Fox Television, which sells to all the other networks.

At the same time, Rice stressed that 20th Century Fox Television won't just produce for Fox and that the network will continue to buy from outside suppliers.

"We want to buy from everybody and we want to sell to everybody," Rice said.

Fox's biggest bet for the fall season is "Gotham," a dark drama inspired by Batman about the early days of Commissioner Gordon and the villains who would become Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman. It also has high hopes for a new drama called "Red Band Society" that is best described as "Glee" meets "The Fault In Our Stars" about high school kids struggling to keep their spirits up while dealing with life-threatening illnesses.

Although last season's finale drew just over 10 million viewers and the median age of the show's audience is over 50, Rice said "American Idol" is still strong and aging gracefully. Fox is keeping judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. next season but is reducing the number of hours of the show to 37 from more than 50 last season.

"We're depending on it less than we have in years past," Rice said.

Rice did express concern about the lack of breakout talent coming out of "American Idol" over the last few years.

"We haven't found a group of kids that have captured the imagination of the public," Rice said, calling that the top focus for next season as opposed to how the judges are getting along in front of and behind the cameras.

In terms of how Fox will develop shows in its new structure, Rice said the network would continue Reilly's initiative of trying to make shows outside what is known as pilot season. Every spring, the networks scramble for actors and producers to make pilots to compete for the fall schedule. Then in the fall, the majority of shows are thrown on the air at the same time and few survive the intense competition.

"I don't think we can have a rigid system," Rice said. "It doesn't make for the best shows."

Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint

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