Reilly announced Thursday that he will leave his current post after a seven-year run at Fox. Rumors persisted of power struggles with his boss, Peter Rice, although it's notable that no successor was immediately named. When a company puts a hit out on the person at the top, a successor is typically waiting in the wings, along with a news release. So it's likely Reilly wasn't being totally disingenuous when his farewell email to Fox employees spoke of a need to stay "fresh."
He arrived at a time of triumph and is, it must be said, leaving a network in retreat. In 2007 — with Reilly having endured a dramatic falling-out with the boss in his previous job,
It would be unfair to blame Reilly completely for Fox's current predicament. "Idol" was a true sensation. Its fade-out would have created long-term problems whether it happened slowly or — as is the case — suddenly.
Reilly and his fans can point to some real successes. "Sleepy Hollow" mixes historical fantasy and crime drama in alluring ways that connected with audiences.
The record on comedies is even better. Reilly greenlighted three that have become signatures for the network and have plenty of room to grow over the next few seasons:
On the other hand, though, Reilly's main job was to find scripted shows that would blunt "Idol's" inescapable decline, whenever it came. And on that score, he failed.
He put his weight behind a long list of dramas with short — in some cases blink-and-you-missed-'em — runs:
So that would seem to indicate that TV historians will see Reilly as a transitional figure — a guy who stood between the glory years of "Idol" and whatever future heights Fox will presumably reach.
But late in his tenure, Reilly did start leading one trend that could define him. He became an insistent critic of the TV development process, which he viewed as a relic of the industry's early years. He believes the traditional September through May season is irrelevant in today's on-demand world — as is the process by which executives choose new fall series from a batch of pilots made every spring.
In fact, Reilly signed off his farewell email with a plea: "Don't go back to pilot season!"
He is probably right that the traditional TV calendar makes no sense. However, it's hard for an industry to change after 60 mostly profitable years of doing business a certain way. So in that respect, Reilly deserves a great deal of credit for being, if not a visionary, then at least a man courageous enough to speak truth to habit.
Unfortunately, in the TV world, that's not nearly as impressive a credential as being the guy who came up with a lot of hits.