Beverly Hills, Calif. — Dana Walden and Gary Newman, coheads of Fox’s network and studio, kick-started Thursday at TCA summer press tour by announcing some marquee pilot and series orders. They also pointed to evidence of strides made during their first year at the network helm.
“Neither of us is up here to take any kind of victory lap when there’s so much work left to be done,” Walden said during the pair’s executive session. “But we do feel great about where we stand right now.”
Empire, naturally, anchored the duo’s remarks. The No. 1 show on broadcast TV single-handedly revived the network’s fortunes (though it couldn’t lift it out of fourth place for the year). It racked up 17 million average weekly viewers in live-plus-7-day (and 26 million in live-plus-30, Walden noted).
“I know you guys have been having conversations here about the relevance of the broadcast network and whether it is still part of the cultural conversation,” Walden said. “I would just suggest to you that the most talked-about and biggest show of the past season was launched on a traditional broadcast networks.” Walden continued, “Some of our peers on other platforms are reluctant to give you ratings information. With Empire, we will account to you for every last viewer.”
The new shows unveiled included the return of mid-2000s Fox hit Prison Break, girl-group music drama pilot Star from Empire ring-master Lee Daniels, and an updated take on Urban Cowboy. Walden and Newman also highlighted a new long-term contract extension with Gordon Ramsay, a Bones-Sleepy Hollow crossover, and the addition of Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis to Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Last Man on Earth, respectively. As a punctuation mark, Newman, noting that he and Walden had helped shepherd the original X-Files series, introduced a clip from the upcoming reboot. Addressing the Bones-Sleepy Hollow crossover and other razzle-dazzle that marked the network’s morning, Newman said, “In this landscape of TV that’s so crowded, you have to give viewers a reason to come to a show.”
Asked about the meltdown of Knock-Knock Live, Walden said its live nature posed marketing challenges. Newman said the show “didn’t have enough Fox DNA in it” and “just wasn’t distinctive enough for our air.” The throughline of the session was a doubling-down on the viability of broadcast, via old-fashioned marketing hooks and serial storytelling. Newman said that approach affords considerable advantages, even in an on-demand world. “When you put everything out at once, which obviously is a structure that’s working very well at Netflix, you get that one big moment,” Newman said. “But you just don’t get that the same ongoing cultural impact of a show that’s connecting with the audience. People spend 12, 13 weeks making it something to look forward to being at home to watch and be online for to connect with people.”
At the same time, Newman also said the full-season stacking rights for Empire were a key part of its successful rollout. The ubiquity of the show on demand invited everyone into the tent. Even this summer, across VOD, Hulu and other platforms, 500,000 viewers a week are still watching the show.