Network Upfronts Extravaganza – ‘FOX’ Preview

It’s going to end up as the #1 network this season due to the American Idol juggernaut. And yet, can we really say that FOX has had a successful year? It’s to the point now where we really can’t even include Idol in the show’s ratings in order to get a decent view into its true success. The reality is that FOX had a rough development season, failing to put together a single new show that was buzzworthy except for the one they gave a shot after American Idol in the second half of the season…and a game show. The network looks to diversify that success yet again this season, and they’ve got a few options on the table which could get them there…and some which are just plain awful.

2006/2007 Pilot Season

FOX has a very, very weird schedule, which means that its pilots at the beginning of the year were really designed to fill in gaps until Idol filled the schedule in January and while its Monday serial dramas took breaks during the season. However, unfortunately for FOX, all of this proved to be an abject failure.

On the comedy side, FOX launched with Happy Hour and ‘Til Death which were almost immediately pulled from the schedule. However, against the odds, ‘Til Death returned in the Spring after American Idol, and did pretty well for itself and has garnered a second season. Happy Hour, however, never saw the light of day again, and was yet another failed attempt at a sitcom from the good people at FOX.

However, the bigger problem for FOX was that they were unable to put together a drama to fill in for 24 and Prison Break when they are on hiatus on Monday nights. They started out with Vanished taking the place of 24 while it waited for its January premiere, and it bombed terribly. Sure, every serial drama bombed this year, but the fact of the matter is that FOX was left with a fairly huge hole in its lineup at this point. Their “full year schedule” is dependent on replacement shows that actually work, which is why Vanished’s failure and ultimate relegation to Friday nights stung that much more.

However, they ran into the same problem when they tried to launch Drive in Prison Break’s timeslot in April, which shows the network’s serious problem with launching new series. Drive was treated to a two-hour premiere on a crowded Sunday evening, bombed terribly on Mondays, and was jerked from the air a week later. FOX should have launched the show in a more traditional fashion, as burning two hours without proper notice and against Desperate Housewives was just ridiculous.

And yet, FOX had three more dramas that premiered last year…I’m not kidding, they did! I had honestly totally forgotten about both Justice and Standoff, both of which failed to make it past the fall (Although Standoff is apparently going to be airing more of its episodes at some point). Justice was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, coulda been a contender, but just failed to be interesting (Victor Garber playing smarmy entertained me, sure, but I wasn’t engaged by the show as a whole). Standoff, meanwhile, just never had a real chance to launch, and suffered from some extensive retooling. The third, The Wedding Bells, came from David E. Kelley, and failed after only a few airings on Friday Night (A slot open to new programming and yet thus far ignored by FOX). The fact remains that the show couldn’t launch a single drama this year, and continue to ride the wave of success of Idol without adequate attention paid to these projects.

FOX revealed two new reality shows during the season (The third, the Spielberg/Burnett On the Lot, debuts later this month), and while Duets was a complete failure…well, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader wasn’t. It rode an American Idol lead-in to a tremendous success on Thursdays, and has continue to be a strong performer (Relative) to previous time slot occupants against Survivor and Ugly Betty at 8pm. Still, I hope that FOX doesn’t think shows like this are an answer to their problems, because this fad can only last so long.

FOX is unlikely to have taken many lessons from the past pilot season, considering that all of their American Idol money probably made them forget all about it, but they need to remember that they can’t, in any way, continue on developing absolutely zero new dramas that become successful. And, they can’t replace them with game shows.

The Returning Shows

Fox is in decent shape in many ways. It’s got its animation block on Sundays which considers to be a strong demo performer, and of course it has its highly successful American Idol, along with House, 24, Prison Break, etc. That sounds great, right? Well, it actually has a fair amount of problems.

That Sunday block of comedies saw two failures: a returned King of the Hill (It was more of a legacy pickup, so I can understand) and The War At Home (Which is just crappy). Both shows are unlikely to make it next season, but the strong performance of The Simpsons, American Dad and Family Guy more than make up for it. The Sunday lineup is going to have at least one hole to fill, so it should be interesting to see what FOX pulls out for it.

However, the network could have done a better job with its biggest hits, and leveraging them in the right fashion. These hits (American Idol and House) are the biggest things in television, and they each have the power to make or break shows. Then why, FOX, do you insist on airing them back-to-back on Tuesdays? It’s an absolutely stupid thing to do when you consider that House actually outdraws American Idol on some occasions (It bested it in 18-49 just last week). These two juggernauts are what the network has going for them right now, so they really need to pull it together when it comes to scheduling them to best help new shows.

FOX isn’t in bad shape with its dramas, although there were some critical issues which need to be addressed. On the surface everything is a-ok: Bones has been a strong performer on Wednesdays, outlasting Jericho in the timeslot, and 24 and Prison Break stayed steady in the ratings. However, the latter two suffered from creative problems, especially 24. This means some likely retooling, which could place the dramas in a vulnerable position next year.

More vulnerable, however, are the network’s reality shows. Trading Spouses and Nanny 9/11 are pretty well dead in the water right now, and they really need to be put out to pasture. FOX has had more success with House repeats, so they might as well just try out some new shows instead of sticking with these lowly rated crapfests.

And really, that’s all FOX has. With the end of The O.C., FOX is really just relying on its four dramas and its reality juggernaut to get it through the hard times, with the animation block filling in some gaps. They can only do this for so long (24 and Prison Break are both running out of steam), so there needs to be some successful new blood.

The 2007/2008 Pilots

Variety – Pilot Watch – FOX

FOX has pretty well already cemented its picked up pilots for the year, which makes my job slightly easier and somewhat less exciting. However, it’s really now a question of whether or not FOX has found the right dynamic of new shows that can re-energize their lineup. My thoughts? Yeah, not so much.

On the drama side of things, FOX is going for…well, pretty well exactly what they went for last year with one key exception: instead of a serial drama (Vanished), they’ve instead turned to a science fiction drama. Other than that, they’re basically working along the same lines.

The first pickup is the Sarah Connor Chronicles, and yes, it’s THAT Sarah Connor. The show will fill in the gap between T2 and Terminator 3, and the network is apparently fairly high on it. I think it’s not a bad pickup; it’s a spinoff, which is dangerous, but at the same time the familiarity will play to FOX’s benefit. However, can it really be another Heroes, which is basically what FOX is going for with this one? They’re hoping to pick up the same geek cred that NBC has seen, and I don’t think it’s that easy. It still has a long road ahead of it, but the show could find success out of Prison Break on Mondays.

IMDB – Sarah Connor Chronicles

TheFutonCritic – Sarah Connor Chronicles

Less likely to find success, although a really fascinating concept, is New Amsterdam which is about…oh, hell, just read this from FOX’s press release.

In 1642, JOHN AMSTERDAM (Nikolaj Coster Waldau, “Kingdom of Heaven”), then a Dutch solider in the colony of New Amsterdam later to become New York City stepped in front of a sword intended for a Native Indian girl during a massacre of her indigenous tribe. The girl in turn rescued Amsterdam, weaving an ancient spell that conferred immortality upon him. Amsterdam will not age, she told him, until he finds his one true love.

No, I’m not making this up, it starts out with an environment like the one I have pictured. It’s directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat), and seems like such an odd choice in comparison to some of the other drama options. I kind of like that it’s different, don’t get me wrong, but FOX is usually more suited to more pedestrian concepts like Jon Cassar’s (24 Director) Company Man or the show about Supreme Court clerks and their personal lives. It’s an interesting choice which could backfire…or it could be an engaging drama. It all depends on the execution of its style, in my books, but it lacks a recognizable star.

IMDB – New Amsterdam

TheFutonCritic – New Amsterdam

FOX took less of a chance on K-Ville, a drama about policemen (Anthony Anderson is one of them) working in post-Katrina New Orleans. I personally feel that the concept is, although not insensitive, at the very least unnecessary. It reads as a pure gimmick, and I don’t think that people are going to go for it. The show also doesn’t seem like an easy pairing for any of FOX’s existing lineup, as I don’t see much of a chance for depth of storyline (New Orleans is in bad shape, government isn’t giving enough help, etc.). As terrible as that situation is, I don’t really want to see a cop drama about it. See, for example, this gem from the press release:

MARLIN BOULET (Anthony Anderson, “The Departed,” “The Shield”) is a brash, funny, in-your-face veteran of the NOPD’s Felony Action Squad, the specialized unit that targets the most-wanted criminals. Even when his partner deserted him during the storm, Boulet held his post, spending days in the water saving lives and keeping order. Now, two years later, he’s unapologetic about bending the rules when it comes to collaring bad guys. The stakes are too high, and the city too lawless, for him to do things by the book.

IMDB – K-Ville

TheFutonCritic – K-Ville

On the whole these three dramas are similar to last year’s: takeoffs of TV clichés. However, I like the pickup of New Amsterdam for its quirkiness (But I think it just sounds weird), and I think that Sarah Connor Chronicles has potential (Although the fact that NBC has a similarly skewed series won’t help). K-Ville, on the other hand, I would have rather seen left out, although it could bring some demo success for the network despite its absolute dreadful concept. So, on the whole…could have done better.

Edit: Well, it looks like FOX has been at it again: the legal drama “Canterbury’s Law” starring Juliana Marguiles (ER) has been given a series order according to The Hollywood Reporter. It is described as “a female attorney makes waves defending her innocent clients”, which makes me completely and totally uninterested in the series. This certainly doesn’t help the slate, in my books.

On the comedy side, where FOX is in need of just as much help if not to the same degree, they’ve picked up three pilots to series and are likely to create two comedy blocks with them.

First, even though I’m still angry with her, I have to congratulate Amy-Sherman Palladino for transitioning from Gilmore Girls to a new pilot with ease, as The Return of Jezebel James has been picked up. The show stars Parker Posey (Superman Returns, Pictured) and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), and deals with surrogacy and all sorts of other such things. The show seems to have many of Sherman-Palladino’s parental issues, which always worked well on Gilmore Girls. Sherman-Palladino is capable of elevating the series to decent levels (As long as her husband Dan doesn’t drag it down), and it seems to be a female-skewing comedy which is something that FOX isn’t used to having. It makes me wonder how they’re going to program it.

IMDB – The Return of Jezebel James

TheFutonCritic – The Return of Jezebel James

They’ll have no trouble programming their second pickup, however, as the Kelsey Grammer (Pictured)/Patricia Heaton Back to You is a perfect fit for Heaton’s fellow Everybody Loves Raymond alum Brad Garrett’s ’Til Death. It has well-known sitcom actors in a reliable setting (News Broadcasting), and the show will work well with older viewers often unlikely to turn to FOX under normal circumstances. The reality is that this pickup has been known for weeks, and was pretty well a given once casting was finished. However, Ted Danson saw his sitcom fail earlier this season, so sitcom royalty are not free from failure. Still, I’d say this one has a bit of a better show being teamed with another sitcom alum.

IMDB – Back to You

TheFutonCritic – Back To You

Meanwhile, the Farrelly Brothers come to the table with a sitcom idea that, once again, the network is going to have trouble programming. The Rules for Starting Over stars Craig Bierko and Shawn Majumder (A Newfie making it in Hollywood? Get out of town…or not, in this case) as thirty-something dating men, and I really don’t see how this fits in with everything else they’re putting out there. The show is too old for the Sunday Comedy block, and yet seems like the polar opposite of Jezebel James. Still, I figure you probably have to lump the two together, which leaves an empty slot on Sunday’s Animation Domination which remains unfilled…unless…

IMDB – The Rules for Starting Over

TheFutonCritic – The Rules for Starting Over

Well, this doesn’t have to do with that last pause, but the other play up in the air is the new Band-version of American Idol recently announced. With auditions during the summer, ‘American Band’ (My proposed title, original eh?) would be ready for Fall, and is a likely candidate to fill in some of the gaps in FOX’s schedule.

The Bottom Line

FOX has come to the table with a decent set of projects, some of which have potential, but I think they’re going to run into some major problems. On one hand, yes, the shows they’ve selected have potential, but it really all depends on how they schedule it. They need to make some of these dramas work, and after the disaster which was last season I’m not sure they’ll be able to. They saw 5 (Yes, FIVE) dramas fall by the wayside last year, and they can’t have this happen again. They need to pull their socks up and pull something together…and only time will be able to tell if they succeed. However, I can’t say the pilots sounds like something I’d want to watch, especially not K-Ville.

The most important thing for me, however, is leveraging their successes properly. This means using American Idol and House in the best way possible, not just accepting their success and acting surprised when new dramas fail outside of their influence. These two juggernauts are gifts not to be wasted, and FOX needs to learn that lesson by using them to either build new series or establish new stronghold on nights in which they are weak (Check out Thursday for my most substantial example).

Projected Schedule

Mondays

8pm – Prison Break (Fall)/ Canterbury’s Law (Spring)

9pm – Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fall)/ 24 (Spring)

Tuesdays

8pm – Bones (Fall)/ American Idol (Spring)

9pm – New Amsterdam

Wednesdays

8pm – American Band / Bones (Spring)

9pm – K-Ville / American Idol (Spring)

Thursdays

8pm – House

9pm – American Band (Results)

9:30pm – Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Fridays

8pm – ‘Til Death

8:30pm – Back To You

9pm – The Return of Jezebel James

9:30pm – The Rules for Starting Over

Sundays

8pm – Simpsons

8:30pm – ???

9pm – Family Guy

9:30pm – American Dad

Two things: I’ve shortened 5th Grader to a ½ hour, and I’ve left a blank spot because I refuse to slot even the Farrelly Brothers into that slot when the show is about 30-somethings on a lineup appealing to teenagers. Fox needs a fourth animated show as soon as possible. Also, since I know FOX is stupid like this, I’ve divided some time slots in terms of their Fall/Spring…and I’m sure they’ll mess it up further.

How much will FOX mess things up? Which shows will be a hit, and which will fall flat on their face? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by staying tuned for their official Upfront announcement on Friday, May 17th.

2 Comments

Filed under 'Til Death, 24, American Idol, Bones, Drive, FOX, House, Prison Break, Ratings, Reality TV, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Television, The O.C., Upfronts

2 responses to “Network Upfronts Extravaganza – ‘FOX’ Preview

  1. Pingback: Network Upfronts Extravaganza: Monday Update « Cultural Learnings

  2. Pingback: Network Upfronts Extravaganza: Thursday Preview « Cultural Learnings

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