Fox braces for ‘Prison’ break

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

Reilly left his NBC presidential post 19 months ago, but the TV press can’t seem to let it go. 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 premiere brand for scripted television, that’s a little sad.”

That said, Fox would have loved to have added 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 news conference. But NBC fought hard to keep its star, despite its decision five years ago to eventually push Leno aside to make room for Conan O’Brien. (O’Brien 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 a total of 10 drama and comedy pilots in the next few weeks. But Reilly admitted during the news conference that it’s possible that no new live-action comedies will premiere on Fox next fall.

The network seems more interested these days in expanding its block of animated comedies and plans to premiere one called “Sit Down, Shut Up” on April 19, a Sunday. The show, created by Mitch Hurwitz of “Arrested Development,” centers on a dysfunctional high school faculty and staff in a coastal town in Florida.

Fox’s “Do Not Disturb” had the distinction of being the first series to be canceled this fall, but Reilly ordered 22 new episodes of “Til Death,” which will not air until next fall.

“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. 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

‘24’s’ Sutherland answers critics

Kiefer Sutherland wants to make sure you understand: It is, generally speaking, not OK to shoot your boss in the head.

Just because Jack Bauer (Sutherland) does it on “24" doesn’t make it right. Sutherland and “24" executive producer Howard Gordon used part of their session at the Tuesday press tour in Universal City to brush aside criticisms that the Fox thriller, in its seventh season, condones torture and other morally dubious procedures.


The show has faced such criticism almost since its debut in 2001, but the danger of seeming out of step is acute in the waning days of the Bush administration, with many liberals demanding investigations of counterterrorism practices. In the show, torture “is simply used as a dramatic device,” Sutherland said.

“In reality, they’ll tell you less than 10% of information they get from situations like this proves helpful.” He added: “Underneath that, we certainly raise moral questions of what’s right and wrong.”

Referring to when Bauer killed his boss Ryan Chappelle at the behest of the president, he said, “We’re not condoning that. It’s part of the show.”

Gordon said that going into the new season, he was sensitive to the fact that the show has taken “quite a bit of heat” for “allegedly” promoting rogue methods. But even when invited to do so, he didn’t want to overplay comparisons between President-elect Barack Obama and “24’s” president, Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones).


“They’re both aspirational, is the best way I can describe it,” Gordon said.

-- Scott Collins

‘Melrose’ remake still in sights

We have good news and we have bad news about the CW’s remake of “Melrose Place.”


Because we are journalists, we will begin with the bad. Mark Schwahn, the executive producer of the long-running “One Tree Hill,” will not be developing the new version of “Melrose Place” after all.

CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff said Monday that she’s “in negotiations” with someone now but could not identify the person because the deal is not done. But the network would like to have the show on air next fall if it all works out, she said.

Ostroff, who attended a Television Critics Assn. press tour event at the Peach Pit (Kokomo Cafe in Los Angeles), said she wants the show to be based on new twentysomething characters but thinks it’s important to include cast members of the original, the way the network did with the “90210" remake. But executives have not yet spoken to any of those actors.

Even Heather Locklear?


“Obviously, we’ve talked about Heather Locklear,” she said. “When you talk about Melrose, that’s who you think about.”

Ostroff thinks the timing for the show is right. For one, “Melrose Place” spun off from “Beverly Hills, 90210,” and that worked out nicely.”

-- Maria Elena Fernandez