Fox is going after ‘SNL’ with new block of cartoons

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

PASADENA, Calif. — Fox Broadcasting Co. is betting on cartoons to challenge NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

The network, which already relies on animation shows
such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” to fill its Sunday night
prime-time lineup, is upping its investment in the genre with a new
late-night Saturday block of cartoons that will compete with “Saturday
Night Live,” the reigning champ of weekend late-night TV.

“There is a lot of underserved audience there,” Fox
Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said Sunday at the winter TV press
tour in Pasadena.

Reilly said he didn’t foresee dethroning “Saturday
Night Live,” which he likened to a cultural institution, but added that
the cartoon initiative had the potential to corral a significant chunk
of the young male viewers.

Fox expects to debut the late-night block in January
2013, and it will feature four animated series from 11 p.m. to 12:30
a.m. (“Saturday Night Live” runs from about 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.).

This is not the first time Fox has tried to compete
with “Saturday Night Live.” For years, it ran a comedy sketch show —
“MADtv” — against “SNL.” More recently, it tried a variety show with
comedian Wanda Sykes that failed to gain traction.

Although Fox is coming off a fall season that saw the
network’s prime-time audience jump 17 percent thanks to its comedy “New
Girl” and the musical talent show “The X Factor,” the network has tough
decisions in the weeks ahead.

Tops among them is the fate of “Terra Nova,” the
drama about a family that travels to prehistoric times to save the
future. Although “Terra Nova,” which finished its 13-episode run last
month, delivered decent numbers, it is expensive, making a second season
no slam dunk.

Reilly said a decision will be made in the next
several weeks on the show’s fate. The decision needs to be made earlier
than usual because the show shoots in Australia and takes a long time to
produce. Reilly did acknowledge having had issues with the show

Another show awaiting its fate is “House,” the
long-running medical drama starring Hugh Laurie. Fox’s deal for “House”
expires after this season, and the show’s ratings have dropped sharply
over the last few years.

As for “The X Factor,” which was created by and
features former “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell, Reilly said it would
undergo changes when it returns this fall, but he declined to
elaborate. The show delivered strong numbers, but not as big as Fox had
hoped for or Cowell had promised.

Speculation has been rampant that one of the big
changes will be the replacement of the show’s host, Steve Jones. Asked
specifically about Jones, Reilly said “the hosting gig as we know it is a
much harder job than meets the eye,” adding that everyone now has a new
appreciation of the value of Ryan Seacrest, the host of “American

Seacrest’s contract as host of “American Idol,” for
which he gets $10 million per season, expires in May. But Reilly
declined to talk about negotiations to keep Seacrest tied to “American

Seacrest, who also fronts a popular radio program and
produces numerous reality shows, including E!’s “Keeping Up With the
Kardashians,” has also been mentioned as a potential replacement for
Matt Lauer as an anchor of NBC’s morning show “Today.”

Part of Fox’s cartoon bid will feature the launch of a
digital platform to showcase the new programming. The digital channel
Fox plans to unveil this year will be available via the Web, mobile
phones, game consoles and video-on-demand but not as a cable network.

Fox has tapped Nick Weidenfeld, a former head of
program development for Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” animated block,
to oversee the new alternative animated content unit.

Fox has been toying with launching a new
animation-only cable channel but needs to wait until it reacquires rerun
rights to its long-running hit “The Simpsons” so Homer and the gang can
be used as a backbone for such a network.


©2012 the Los Angeles Times

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