Fox's Kevin Reilly: Murdoch still has chutzpah

MT Exclusive: The head of Fox Broadcasting says Rupert Murdoch's presence in the television operation is 'always felt, whether he's here or not.'

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 02 May 2012

For the last year, Rupert Murdoch has faced scrutiny over the management of his British newspapers which have been mired in revelations of phone-hacking and alleged bribery of public officials.

But the head of Fox Broadcasting – Murdoch’s US television operation – says the 81 year-old media mogul cuts a commanding presence across the pond. ‘It’s always felt, whether he’s here or not,’ Kevin Reilly, Fox Broadcasting’s entertainment president, told MT editor Matthew Gwyther in an exclusive interview to be published in the May issue of MT.

‘He can't stand layers. He'll indulge market research but at the end if you believe it…you have to go for it. That's how he built all his businesses and that's at the core of what we do. And he will indulge bold failure,’ he adds.

Murdoch’s US television operation is behind some of the country’s best-known shows; Glee, The Simpsons and the X-Factor. But there have been many flops: 'We had a show last year called Lone Star - which was probably the most well-received show of the fall - last one week,’ Reilly says. ‘Rupert understands innately that you can't get the big hits without some misses.’

Nevertheless, the TV industry is facing challenges that are difficult to control. Viewing figures are falling, as the audience fragments. Reilly admits that for some of his top-rated shows, fewer than 50% of viewers are watching live. Instead sites like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon are absorbing viewers.

Even The Simpsons, the network’s first big hit, has become less fruitful after 25 years. ‘It has generated billions of dollars in revenue. It has built our empire. But over the course of that time the costs just began escalating,’ Reilly says. ‘The performers who do that job are unbelievably talented but they get paid an incredible amount of money.’

Reilly’s skirmish with the cast of The Simpsons was well publicised last year. The lead actors were taking home $8m each for about 22 weeks' work. Fox demanded a 50% pay cut and the actors agreed, but demanded a piece of the back end from the huge syndication and merchandising profits.

Even now, it is unclear whether the dispute has finally been resolved. 'Some of the people involved will feel as if there's bottomless and endless profits here and that they are getting hosed,’ Reilly says. ‘It's not like they're shackled to some horrible thing they wish they could get away from. It's one of the greatest shows in history.’

- The full interview will be out in the May issue of MT, on sale Monday.

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