Fox: 365 Problems, And a Hit Ain’t One

Network has found a few needles in the success-making haystack, but looks for bigger and better next season

Why This Matters

The network is bent on year-round programming, tending to several aging properties and finding cover for new hopefuls.

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Upfront presentations often blend promotion of new content with victory laps. For Fox, the task was a bit trickier as it approached the sell for the 2014- 15 season. The net had at least three freshman hits of varying sizes in 2013-14 (Sleepy Hollow, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and MasterChef Jr.), but overall it was a trying year, meaning few eye-popping stats to tout.

The focus at the May 12 upfront instead was on live events (Pitbull performed, promoting his coming New Year’s Eve special from Miami), sports and limited series. The initial de-emphasis of scripted fare also helped distract advertisers from the reality that while Fox remains a young network (the reigning champion of all contenders for 18-to-34-yearolds since 2000), it has some disproportionately old titles: American Idol, Glee and Bones, all of them spry compared to mega-long-runner The Simpsons.

On the net’s fall slate, five new shows will join the fray as execs continue a high-stakes turnaround effort. The 2013-14 season “was a tough one for us,” conceded Fox Broadcasting Co. entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly during a conference call with reporters. “If you don’t have something to raise everything up, as Idol did for so many years, it’s a struggle.”

Fall debuts on Fox will include Batman comic book origin story Gotham on Monday nights, paired with Sleepy Hollow; John de Mol reality series Utopia on Tuesdays and Fridays; Steven Spielberg-produced hospital soap Red Band Society on Wednesday; Gracepoint, a 10-episode remake of British crime drama Broadchurch, on Thursday; and live-action comedy Mulaney, which joins the Sunday lineup. Sundays had long been dominated by animation, but with Mulaney bowing and Brooklyn Nine-Nine moving to Sundays, the night will now mix live-action and animation.

A wave of new entries—Backstrom, Bordertown, Empire, Hieroglyph, The Last Man on Earth, Weird Loners and Wayward Pines—is on tap for midseason/ summer 2015. Fox also plans more live specials in the coming season. Among them are the Evel Knievelinspired Jump of the Century and Grease Live.

Reilly has loudly proclaimed the death of pilot season and vowed to bring about true year-round programming. The parceling out of new content has sometimes meant, for example, hits such as Sleepy Hollow not having enough new episodes to stay on the air, or the reboot of 24 coming along a few months later than would be ideal.

“Don’t think I wasn’t saying in February, ‘Man, I wish I had 24 on the air right now,’” Reilly said during the conference call. But in the new era, he added, “June is just as important as January.”

Execs are realistic about American Idol. “Idol’s not going to come back to being the ratings champion it was,” Reilly said. The network’s goal is for it to be a “quality performer, in the same way that Survivor has been for CBS.” After 13 years of 50-hourplus seasons, Idol’s run next winter/spring will be 37 hours. The “streamlined” format will mean that instead of taking up two nights a week, once the show gets past the audition phase it will likely be confined to a single two-hour night.

THE ROOKIE CLASS

 

COMEDIES

 

MULANEY: From writer and comedian John Mulaney (SNL), a multi-camera ensemble series about a rising stand-up comic. Costarring Martin Short, Nasim Pedrad and Elliot Gould and produced by Universal Television, Broadway Video and 3 Arts Entertainment.

BORDERTOWN: An animated comedy about two families living in a Southwest desert town on the U.S.-Mexico border. Executive produced by Seth MacFarlane.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH: From writer/producer/ star Will Forte (Nebraska, SNL) and directors/producers Chris Miller and Phil Lord (The Lego Movie), about the life and adventures of the last man on earth in the year 2022.

WEIRD LONERS: About four relationshipphobic, quasi-underdog 30-somethings. Starring Becki Newton (Ugly Betty).

 

DRAMAS

 

GOTHAM: Batman prequel featuring a young Det. James Gordon and Bruce Wayne. Starring Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith; based on characters from DC Comics; from Warner Bros. Television.

RED BAND SOCIETY: A soap imagining a range of adolescent experiences set in a hospital. Starring Octavia Spencer and Griffin Gluck and produced by ABC Studios and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

GRACEPOINT: A major police investigation in a small California seaside town follows the death of a 12-yearold boy. With Anna Gunn and Nick Nolte. Produced by Shine America, Kudos and Imaginary Friends.

BACKSTROM: Stars Rainn Wilson as an abrasive-yet-brilliant detective running a special crimes unit. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television, Far Field Productions.

EMPIRE: A hip-hop industry drama starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson and produced by 20th Century Fox TV and Imagine; created by filmmaker Lee Daniels.

HIEROGLYPH: An ancient Egypt action-adventure series from creator/executive producer Travis Beacham. From 20th Century Fox Television and Chernin Entertainment.

UNSCRIPTED UTOPIA: A social experiment places participants in a remote setting where they have to create a civilization from scratch. From reality pioneer John de Mol, and based on the hit Dutch series of the same name.

EVENT SERIES WAYWARD PINES: M. Night Shyamalan’s take on an insidiously perfect American town, starring Matt Dillon, Juliette Lewis and Melissa Leo; from FX Productions.