Fox execs explain why they kept Dollhouse and killed Sarah Connor

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Why did Fox pick up Dollhouse and not Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles for the fall television season? Network executives discussed their decisions on those shows, as well as reasons for moving Fringe to Thursdays and other scheduling moves, during a conference call with journalists before today's upfront fall television presentation.

Kevin Reilly, Fox's president of entertainment, said that ratings were not the only factor when it came to deciding whether the low-rated Dollhouse would get a second season and remain on Friday nights.

"First, it's a bet on [creativity], and that's something that has never changed," Reilly said. "And I'm happy to say we're doing that. You know how inspired Joss Whedon is. It's a bet on Joss. The DVR numbers are a marker for us, so it is a factor, and we did see an uptick in the ratings from a 1.5 to a 2. That was a pattern for us that we liked, betting on Joss, and I think you're going to see it grow next season."

But is it the factor of "the devil you know," as opposed to the bringing in a new unproven series? "Absolutely," Reilly added. "In fact, I venture to say that if we had put new shows on Friday night, in particular there'd probably be a lot of cynicism about 'Well, wait, ... you're creating an entire new night of television?' Not to mention if we'd canceled Joss' show I'd probably have 110 million e-mails this morning from the fans," he said with a laugh. "So that's exactly right. Bet on something that has a core that you believe can work."

But that doesn't mean Fox will accept low numbers on Friday nights, said Peter Rice, Fox's chairman of entertainment. "We think that we can grow the show," he said, adding: "The show became much stronger creatively during the course of the season. Joss feels very energized about it. And we believe in him as a creator. We've had a lot of success in the past, and we feel that he can build the show, and it can grow in the new season ... and that Friday is a good place for it to do that."

As for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fox executives viewed that series quite differently. "Terminator has completed its run," Reilly said flatly. "And I think it had a nice little run. It was a good show. It was not an either/or [with Dollhouse]. We did see it tailing off a bit. It had a nice creative core, but ultimately we made the bet on Dollhouse for the night. We had some other shows we thought would make a better profile for the night. So that's it for Terminator." Dollhouse will follow two comedies, the new series Brothers and the returning Til Death.

According to Reilly, Terminator "was not an inexpensive show," and Fox had to "make some choices on the night. But, ultimately, we looked at the ratings track on Monday, where it had a pretty consistent run, and then on Friday, where it moved to. And that trend line was not pointing in the right direction. ... But we make no apologies for that show. We had a huge launch for that show, as you remember. We gave it a lot of support and some consistent scheduling. We tried, and felt it was time to move on."

The other big bit of programming news was Fox's decision to move Fringe to Thursdays opposite the enormous hits CSI on CBS and Grey's Anatomy on ABC—that is, assuming those series remain on Thursdays after CBS and ABC announce their schedules this week. Reilly does expect the two networks to keep both shows on Thursdays. "Who knows?" he said. "But that would feel like a very, very risky move. Particularly with CSI, which has had quite a bit of decline this year. A move at that point in a show's cycle tends to accelerate decline."

Reilly added: "I think if you look at Thursday night, ... the door's more open on this night than it's been in a long, long time. Eight o'clock is a soft time period. Bones went in there and did a job that beat the other scripted shows consistently. I think it will continue to do that. And at 9 o'clock, [CSI and Grey's Anatomy] are two still terrific, appointment shows, but they're down. They are not consuming all the oxygen at 9 o'clock. You saw Fringe do a very consistent ratings, about a 4.1, maybe 4.2, week in and week [out] every week of the season. Whether it holds a 4, I don't know. But if you watched that show, it finished strong. We've got a huge amount of buzz coming out of the last batch of episodes. People talking about it like it is now the Fox classic. I think that audience is going to move, and it's a real alternative to both of those shows. It's not an overlapping audience."

One other big move during midseason will be the launch of Past Lives and Human Target after American Idol, Reilly said. "On Tuesdays, Past Life, which is a fast-paced thriller," he said. "It's a mystery that needs to be solved in both the past and the present. And on Wednesdays, Idol is going to platform another drama, which really feels like it's got a lot of great Fox DNA. It stars Mark Valley, the guy who did terrific work, ... a great arc for us, on Fringe last season. And this show finds its roots in the fun action dramas of the '70s and '80s. But it's updated with modern production values."

And just to make sure you don't miss the premiere of Human Target, the series will kick off between the NFC divisional playoff game and the two-hour season premiere of 24 on Jan. 17, before moving to its regular Wednesday-night slot after the American Idol results show.

In one other midseason note, Fox picked up the Tyler Labine comedy Sons of Tucson, for Sundays, which can't be a good sign for The CW's Reaper when it comes to a renewal for that series, ... unless Labine has figured out a way to be in two shows at once (he's currently committed to Reaper as his first priority).