Fox Chief Dana Walden Talks Post-‘Idol’ Plans, Blowing Up Pilot Season and ‘Knock Knock Live’ Failure

TCA 2015: Co-CEO Gary Newman talks broadcast TV’s advantage over streaming: “You can really create a cultural event”

Talking about her network’s preparations for a post-“American Idol” world Thursday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, Fox Television Group CEO and Chairman Dana Walden sounded a familiar refrain for Fox: Bust up pilot season.

“There’s a complete necessity to break out of that pilot cycle where we all cast and search for directors during the same six weeks of the year,” Walden said during her executive session Thursday, where she was joined onstage by fellow group chairman and CEO Gary Newman.

Fox has long led the conversation about breaking up the traditional pilot-season process. Kevin Reilly, who preceded Walden and Newman as head of the broadcast network, regularly used TCA as a platform from which to decry the traditional development cycle, at one point declaring it “dead.”

Walden and Newman, longtime chiefs of studio 20th Century Fox Television, have been less outspoken about pilot season since adding the network to their purview following Reilly’s ouster last year.

As the network looks to prepare its development slate for the 2016-17 season, it must fill the void left behind by “American Idol,” which is entering its final run.

“We’re also ramping up because we’re going to have a lot of opportunities on our schedule,” Walden said. “Those opportunities are not limited to reality. We’re ramping up on the reality side, on the drama side. We’ve got scripted comedies. Our entire development slate is ramping up toward not having ‘American Idol.’”

Walden and Newman also addressed the quick cancellation this summer of live unscripted series “Knock Knock Live,” starring “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest. The live nature of the show and its placement in the summer schedule, according to Walden, undermined its ability to get traction with viewers.

“We found ourselves on the marketing side without any assets to show the audience because of the live nature of the show ,” Walden said. “Looking back, I probably would have scheduled that show in another time of the year when there was more to circulate on our air and an opportunity to tease something.”

On the failure of Ryan Seacrest’s “Knock Knock Live,” Newman added, “It just was missing some of that Fox DNA. We liked the fact that it was family-friendly, aspirational, but it just didn’t feel distinctive enough for our air.”

Newman also talked up broadcast in the face of criticism that the Big Four networks have lost relevance to rivals in cable and streaming. He pointed to the success of Fox’s own “Empire,” the highest rated new series on broadcast or cable last season, as proof of broadcast’s sustained power.

“What we think is so special about broadcast, and I think ‘Empire’ is a really great example of it and its success, is you can really create a cultural event and a social event,” Newman said. He added, “When you put everything out at once, which obviously is a structure that works very well at Netflix, you get that one big moment when you release the show, but I don’t think you quite get the same ongoing cultural impact that you get from a show that is connecting with the audience when people can spend 12, 13 weeks making it something to look forward to.”