Kevin Reilly on the Big Exit Question – His Choice or Ousted: ‘Yeah, Let’s Stir Up Some Sh-t Right Now’

No, it has nothing to do with “American Idol” ratings woes

Shortly after Fox Chairman Kevin Reilly announced his pending departure from the network, TheWrap spoke with the TV executive on the phone about what’s next for him and the network he’s leaving behind.

Reilly told TheWrap that leaving — which was his choice, by the way — has been in the back of his mind for about a year, and that he will transition out of Fox in a month.

While he doesn’t have anything lined up, Reilly spoke of his affinity for digital platforms. He also expressed hope that his successor — whoever that may be — carries his torch of discontinuing the traditional pilot season.

Also read: Insider: Kevin Reilly Replacement Likely to Come From Outside Fox Network (Exclusive)

Here is our Q&A:

Was this your choice? Were you ousted?
Yeah, let’s stir up some shit right now. No, I mean I’m actually very — as I talk to you from my office, by the way, and I’ll be here for another month — very happy. You know, a lot of times in these transitions there is bad blood or tension or politics. I’m very, very happy to be saying that this is just not part of this experience. I’ve been through that in my career; that is not the case this time. It has never been part of my experience at Fox, the two tours that I’ve done here.

So, for me it’s really about having done this broadcast job for 11 years now between NBC and this, I started looking at the broader landscape. I love broadcast, this was not necessarily… the last stop on my career. I found interesting things out there that started the wheels turning, some more conventional than others, but I think the business is morphing in many, many ways and it’s going to continue to, so I got excited about some of those opportunities.

I don’t think you want to be in a position where you’re leading a large organization and thinking about other opportunities, so now I’m very free to explore those and I feel quite excited about that.

Also read: Read Kevin Reilly’s Resignation Letter: On Leaving ‘The Worst Best Job in the World’

Do you have something lined up? The way you’re talking it sounds like you’re excited about digital stuff.
I like that business, truthfully there’s no announcement forthcoming from me. I’m not leaving the business, I’m not planning on taking a few years off. I imagine we’d be talking somewhere in the near future but I don’t have anything specifically lined up right now. There’s just a number of things intriguing to me.

You made such a bold declaration at TCA about the pilot season… obviously it really means something to you. How far back did you know you were leaving and does this have anything to do with your mission to change pilot season?
No. That was what I hoped was the beginning or the catalyst for some change. That was never the end of it all or the chief cure-all. It was really part of what I thought was an important revolution, and broadcast is the most mature television model, so I thought it was important to get it started. It would be great if it’s part of the legacy.

But look in terms of when I was going to leave, while this has sort of been in the back of my mind, maybe on and off for the last 12 months — it’s not like I didn’t like the job or had to get out of here. It’s that juncture right now having done an upfront, thankfully having our new shows well-received and the house in order here — it felt as clean a juncture as it can [be] to make it a smooth transition. I want the company to succeed, I want those shows to succeed.

As far as the pilot thing I felt like it needed to happen, it started to happen and I hope it continues — but frankly if my successor comes in and thinks that that’s a lot of nonsense, then I guess so be it.

Also read: Kevin Reilly Exits Fox Right in the Middle of Transforming TV

Speaking of successor, obviously you’ve got Joe [Earley] there, and internally we’re throwing around names as everyone has to: John Landgraf and people like that. Are you going to be any part of a transition, do you have any ideas?
I’ll be part of a transition, not in choosing my successor. We have a lot of production going on right now, the most really in the history of the network, and we have a lot happening. I’m just here to make it as smooth as possible on a human level for our organization.

I think John is — this is conjecture — when I left FX I made one call myself to somebody and that was John Landgraf to replace me and he was, I think the right fit. Maybe he’ll hire me to come back to FX.

Also read: Don’t Blame Ratings for Kevin Reilly’s Departure: Fox Finished in Second, Flat Year-to-Year

You guys are actually flat season-to-season, “Idol” is obviously a big disappointment to you guys and then you had a couple of shows recently that premiered really low: does this have anything to do with the timing or no?
No. That just is the cycle we’re in right now. I do believe that we’ve weathered the decompression of “Idol” over the last two years — that was where expectations were still high. We’ve now realigned our expectations, we’ve trimmed the amount of hours of “Idol” and I’m hoping and believing that show can stay on the air for many years, but on a more down-to-Earth level.

By the way, that was still 11 million people in the finale… it ain’t over. When you have your schedule built around two nights of a week and a lot of hours between “X Factor” and “Idol,” it does interrupt your circulation and it has other impact on trying to launch things around it. Honestly, this is also a business where you gotta catch breaks, and we didn’t catch a lot of them this year when we could have used them.

Also read: What Happened to Fox’s Plan to Abandon Pilot Season

But I feel like if you look at our schedule, we have a number of series that still have a lot of strength in them. We did have some returning-strong shows for next year from this season, both in “Sleepy Hollow” and “MasterChef Junior.” I believe the ratings of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” will get to the next level, but it’s a very strong show creatively. So I think all of the makings are here for the network to really break through in a good way. The network will have to succeed with those shows, because I think a bad season would be damaging, but I think they’ve got the table set. I really do think the house is fairly in order.

It’s too bad that you won’t be around for “Gotham.”
Yeah, I’m gonna hopefully just look forward to watching that as a fan. I’m really, really thrilled the way that turned out.