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Posted at 09:54 PM ET, 08/05/2011

Summer TV Press Tour 2011: Fox executive session


Astronomer Carl Sagan, shown during the preparation of his television series 'Cosmos' in 1981. Seth MacFarlane is on board for a re-boot. Seriously. (EDUARDO CASTANEDA - AP)

You want to see real acting at a TV press tour? Watch a commercial broadcast network’s programming chief waxing enthusiastic to about 200 reporters and critics about how he’s going to exhume and re-make Carl Sagan’s old PBS science series and put it on his schedule because it’s the passion project of one of his network’s hottest show creators.

That would be Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly talking Friday at Summer TV Press Tour 2011 about the 13-part docu-series “Cosmos; A Space-Time Odyssey,” which he’s got to stick on his schedule somewhere in 2013. Why? Because Seth MacFarlane, the guy behind “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” wants it.

“I wish I could tell Carl what Seth’s leadership on this new ‘Cosmos’ has made possible,’ Sagan’s widow, writer/producer Ann Druyan, said in the official Fox announcement.

Nobody is more keenly aware of the role MacFarlane’s leadership played in this programming nightmare than Reilly.

A master of understatement, Reilly acknowledged, during his performance, that “Cosmos: What is Fox Smoking?” does “not feel like a natural fit on Fox.”

But, he continued philosophically, the original “Cosmos” “was the most successful thing PBS ever did” and he’s had people come up to him and say, “I love that show,” and that it “made me want to study science, made me more curious about those classes I had.”

We think we can safely say this is the first time a Fox suit has ever mentioned PBS by way of explaining why something is going on his schedule at a TV Press Tour.

Anyway, Reilly’s performance, while nuanced, paled in comparison to the comments he’d made about the project in the network’s official announcement.

In that, he’d bragged, “This is a golden opportunity to introduce ‘Cosmos’ to a new generation.”

He’d also said, “While admittedly on the periphery of our brand, we believe this can have the same massive cultural impact that the original series delivered,” followed by, “we’re going to use all of our resources…to help bring that to fruition.”

To disinter the project, MacFarlane has teamed up, not only with Carl Sagan’s wife, but with the rest of Sagan’s original creative collaborators from the 80’s. In science years that’s like an eternity ago.

“Never more than at this moment in the modern era have we needed a profound reminder of the colossally important and exciting role that science, space exploration and the human quest for knowledge must continue to play in our development as a species,” MacFarlane said in Friday’s announcement. And not for laughs!

Talking to the press Friday, Reilly acknowledged, “this is not a Thursday at 9 o’clock” show.

Having ladled out this horseradish with a shovel to a ballroom full of press, it was practically no effort for Reilly to also insist he’s not even remotely worried about all the rancor spewing out on Twitter and other social media about his musical series “Glee.”

Those stories include:

*Three key cast members about to be “graduated’ and booted from the show, and at least one of the actors didn’t know until he read it in trade publication The Hollywood Reporter.

*Three key cast members graduating but not necessarily leaving the show.

*Spinoff in the works.

*Spinoff not in the works.

*blah, blah, blah.

“I was extremely upset myself to learn this on twitter,” Reilly joked of the graduation plans, convincing no one.

“I’m kidding!” he added.

The whole thing has taken on “more heated momentum than it, in fact, is,” Reilly said, because the show had “this explosive cultural impact,” including the cast “going to the White House.”

It’s all becoming clear now, right? It’s the White House’s fault.

Anyway, Reilly acknowledged a spin-off “still is in the wind” and was first discussed last season, and creator Ryan Murphy “has said he probably regrets talking about it at that point,” because they decided instead to “focus on this year.”

And this season of “Glee” is so good, Reilly said, that two of his “cohorts” at Fox “were sort of fighting back tears at one point,” Reilly said. But, he clarified, they were “tears of joy, in terms of how good the stories are -- and some of the emotional stuff they had.”

Besides, Reilly said optimistically, he hasn’t gotten any messages from viewers saying “I’m bored” so that’s all good.

And, this season, “Glee” will not feature any big guest stars, or tribute shows, like they piled on this past season -- not because anybody complained or they’re worried about the ratings or anything like that – but just cause, Reilly said. And so there will be “an incredibly clean arc” for the “first batch” of episodes – he did not clarify how he defined “batch.”

And at the end of the season, there will be “the three characters that will be graduating,” though “how that’s going to play out I’m not going to say,” Reilly confided.

And the spinoff? They will “revisit that in the back half of this year, when it should be visited,” Reilly enthused.

And, in conclusion, Reilly said vaguely, “It” – whatever “it” is – “ got out in the middle of that and then got a little bit crazy. Maybe some people were a little surprised, but this is really not, in the grand scheme of producing television, not a big controversy.”

Then one critic asked if maybe the problem with “Glee” isn’t that Fox has a problem with the show but “a problem with the perception of what’s happening on the show,” because of the way co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck “are handling the media, handling the public.”

No way! Reilly explained -- Brad is “mild mannered” and Ryan “is a creative force.” You could see his point.

“I feel like I’m almost making it bigger by giving it so much air time,” Reilly said, throwing himself under the bus.

By  |  09:54 PM ET, 08/05/2011

 
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