Fox upfront analysis: Blast from the past
The network hopes to stem ratings declines by going back
May 15, 2013
NBC may have Michael J. Fox, but it’s Fox network that’s going back to the future this fall.
Following a disappointing season when its female-skewing comedies failed to gain traction and “American Idol” declined, Fox is revisiting the things that helped it develop into a contender in the 1990s and 2000s, including more irreverent comedies and a focus on male viewers.
Media buyers are pleased that the network seems to have narrowed its focus and returned to its central brand.
But they’re unsure whether the changes will bring ratings improvements for the network at a time when male viewers are increasingly looking elsewhere for entertainment.
“I think media buyers are taking a wait-and-see approach. Nothing is hitting us as a ‘must-buy,’ but eyes aren’t rolling either,” says Tracie Manna Chinetti, associate director of broadcast at Blitz Media in Boston.
“Based on how aggressive they price and estimate ratings, Fox would definitely be on a consideration list, especially for male demos.”
Last season, Fox introduced a trio of female-focused shows following the success of “New Girl.” That was a mistake. One of Fox’s strengths is its large male audience, which tunes into the network’s pro football and baseball coverage. Only one of those shows survived.
This year’s crop of male-focused shows will play better to the sports audience, which will see the promotions for the new fall shows during games.
Media buyers’ other concern, of course, is the ratings declines for “American Idol.” Fox offered no solutions at yesterday’s presentation, but buyers believe the network is brainstorming to end the slide.
“‘Idol’ is still very highly rated but by no means a juggernaut,” one buyer says. “It’s still one of the top-rated programs, but the question, is what is Fox’s next weapon? They want to say they’re more than just the ‘Idol’ and football network.”
Here’s a look at the other highs and lows of Fox’s schedule:
Best new show
“Rake,” a new drama slated for midseason launch in which Greg Kinnear plays a “House”-like addiction-prone lawyer. Kinnear is a first-rate talent and the clips from the show look very promising. Plus “Rake” is being launched in the same manner as “The Following,” Fox’s new hit drama, with a heavy promotional push in the fall leading up to a 15-week uninterrupted run come January.
Worst new show
“Enlisted,” a comedy about the military that will air Fridays at 9:30 this fall. One buyer says it wouldn’t be a surprise if “Enlisted” is the first cancellation of the season.
Best scheduling move
Pushing limited-run series like “Rake,” “24: Live Another Day” and “Wayward Pines,” all of which will have fewer episodes than the traditional 24 and play to viewers’ desire for binge viewing currently being met by streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon.
Most puzzling scheduling move
Switching “Bones” to Friday night. Didn’t the network learn anything from “Touch’s” disastrous move to Fridays?
Bubble show that should have survived
None. Fox made the right decisions on all of its cancellations. There’s no way “Touch,” “Ben and Kate” or “The Mob Doctor” could have stayed alive after dropping below 1.0 ratings.
Returning show that should have been axed
“The X Factor,” which shows no signs of improvement after last season’s revamp. Fox should have axed it and brought Simon Cowell back to “American Idol” to stop the ratings drain.
Overall fall schedule grade
The new shows are hit or miss, but it’s good to see Fox return to its roots as the bold, aggressive network. Even if the new shows flop, it will have been a step in the right direction of firming up its identity.
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