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Kevin Reilly exits Fox Broadcasting after tough season

Meg James

8:00 AM EDT, May 30, 2014

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The top entertainment executive at Fox Broadcasting has resigned in the wake of a bruising television season.

The departure of Kevin Reilly as chairman of entertainment for Fox comes less than three weeks after he presented a new fall schedule to advertisers that the network hoped would turn around its fortunes. The company did not immediately name a replacement.

Fox slumped to fourth place in viewership this season, with only two of its shows that launched this last season returning in the fall. Besides an inability to launch several new successful sitcoms and dramas, the network's longtime ratings juggernaut "American Idol" has been hemorrhaging viewers for the last few years.

In an interview, Reilly said his heart was no longer in the job.

"I've been doing this for 11 years, at Fox and NBC … and over the last 12 months I started looking at the broader entertainment landscape," Reilly said. "It just felt like it was time."

Reilly had an unusually long stay in his position. Top network programming jobs are famously difficult because of intense competition that has only grown in recent years with the entry of well-financed competitors including Netflix. Viewers now have a wider array of entertainment options — and more control over how that content is consumed — than ever before.

All of this has made it increasingly difficult for networks that rely on ratings to bring in billions of dollars in advertising revenue.

"Fox has some good shows, and shows that have the added benefit of attracting younger audiences — but their shows just didn't have a lot of viewers," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president for research at the New York advertising firm Horizon Media. "And then the floor just collapsed under 'Glee,' 'American Idol' and 'X-Factor,' and a lot of people have been asking, 'What will Fox do about that?'"

"American Idol" was once known in the industry as "the death star" because it flattened every other program in its path. It was one of Reilly's biggest ratings drivers, once routinely averaging more than 20 million viewers an episode.

That audience has since dropped to about 10 million viewers amid more competition, with NBC's rival singing show "The Voice" finally eclipsing "American Idol" in popularity.

Meanwhile, Simon Cowell's "X-Factor" turned out to be a flop, digging a huge ratings hole that Fox could not escape. Other high-profile projects this year, including the Greg Kinnear drama "Rake," landed with a thud.

Reilly had a few recent successes. He introduced two new hits: the drama "Sleepy Hollow" and police comedy "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" with Andy Samberg. But those two shows were not enough to erase the deficit caused by the struggles of "American Idol" and "X-Factor."

"We've been in a down cycle for two years now, with 'Idol' coming down to Earth," Reilly acknowledged. "We have put on successful shows, but as your [viewership] goes down it gets harder to program and launch other new shows."

Fox, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox media company, does not have a replacement lined up to immediately succeed Reilly. A search to find a new programming chief will include outside candidates for the job, according to a knowledgeable person who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Two leading internal candidates are John Landgraf, who runs the FX cable networks, and Dana Walden, co-chairman of 20th Century Fox Television studio. Peter Rice, who is chairman and chief executive of the Fox Networks Group, will manage Reilly's unit until a replacement is named.

Reilly joined Fox in July 2007 as entertainment president after exiting NBC in a messy shake-up orchestrated by former NBCUniversal chief Jeff Zucker. Although Reilly had developed such hits for NBC as "The Office" and "Heroes," Zucker wanted to clear the way to install television producer Ben Silverman as head of the peacock network, a move that didn't live up to expectations.

Within two months, Reilly had landed at Fox and was making a splash at the network, which had been struggling creatively. During Reilly's long tenure at Fox, the network also launched such hits as "Glee," "New Girl" and "The Following" with Kevin Bacon. He was promoted to entertainment chairman in August 2012.

Reilly also said he would continue to root for Fox as the shows he has developed launch in the coming months.

"If Fox gets a few breaks, and a couple of our new shows take off, Fox will be right back in the game," Reilly said. "I hope that happens as I will be cheering from the sidelines."

Times staff writer Joe Flint contributed to this report