Sunday, April 01, 2007

Super TV Preview: Fox

(Over the course of a few days, SDD will be offering up its thoughts on what the networks may do with their lineups next fall as they enter the time period when they consider what to cancel and what to pick up. This is only based on unverified gossip and a little guesswork based on what networks have done in the past. We'll go alphabetically by network. Check out our predictions for ABC, CBS and The CW. And here's last year's Fox prediction. Don't consider any of this official news. It's just our predictions.)

by Todd and Jon

When you're Fox, it's OK that you take the fall off year after year to show baseball. Indeed, baseball fans should feel lucky that the network that airs the playoffs (which interrupt the flow of the fall premiere season) can afford to air them even when they're low-rated, since that same network turns into the one that rules the world in the winter, when American Idol, the biggest show on television, returns to dominate two (and sometimes three) nights a week.

There was a time when Fox would air a lot of interesting and different programs but didn't have any sort of consistency. The famous Simpsons Spinoff Showcase showed this most memorably, when Troy McClure unveiled a schedule for the network that had exactly three slots safe (in reality, at the time, Fox also had King of the Hill and Beverly Hills 90210 to go along with Simpsons, X-Files and Melrose Place). With the arrival of Idol, though, Fox tends to do pretty well on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 24 keeps it hopping on Monday (as does Prison Break to a degree). House is the one bona fide hit the network has without Idol, and it's not as big as it is in the fall as it is in the spring when Idol comes back. But the network has a lot of bright spots that perform well enough, from its Sunday comedies to Bones to Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader.

The problem if you're Fox is that House is the only show that continues to grow. American Idol has finally reached the end of its growth cycle, as its performance hours have all been down this season (though it bears mentioning that they're all higher than any season but the immediately previous one). The audition episodes did very well, but since Hollywood week, the show has straggled behind its fifth season. This is natural for a show in its sixth season, but as the attrition continues, other networks are going to get bold and put big hits up against the show to see if they can knock it off (as ABC did by putting Grey's Anatomy against CSI). As Idol slumps, so goes the rest of the network.

Similarly, 24 has found itself with smaller ratings this season, largely from facing off against Heroes, which commands a similar audience. The battle between it, Dancing with the Stars (in the first half-hour), Heroes and Two-and-a-Half Men should be fascinating to watch in May sweeps. 24 is nowhere near danger of cancellation, but it may be time for Fox to start planning a graceful end for the show in its eighth season or so (the show is currently in season six).

Fortunately, House and Bones have proved themselves to be good utility players, filling in holes around the schedule when needed. Prison Break was up from its first season this year, but Dancing was devastating to it, and the show's growing preposterousness can only entrance its audience so long.

Fox also couldn't launch a show to save its life this season. Only Til Death received a full-season order, and its poor retention out of the Idol results show may have sealed its fate. Standoff received an order that almost made up for a full season, but that order seemed inexplicable, and, indeed, the show will be burned off in the summer. Vanished, Justice and Happy Hour all failed as well, even though they received smart time slots. The network has yet to launch Drive, but it's another serial in a season that has indicated audiences were tired of serials (that weren't Heroes, at least). The prospects don't look good, in short.

Fox is also in severe trouble on Thursdays and Fridays, though Fifth-Grader has helped patch up the former. There are persistent rumors that Fox will move House to Thursdays, but there have been rumors that Fox would move Idol there, too, and that never happened. As such, we're skeptical that Fox will do much beyond put Fifth-Grader in a permanent time slot there (though it competes with Ugly Betty for an audience, and if its gimmick grows old, it could lose out to that show again).

So Fox needs to launch some new hits. But who doesn't? Let's take a look at what the network's doing, night-by-night before predicting the network's schedule with and without Idol.

Sunday: The comedy bloc is starting to show signs of wear-and-tear, but it does really well with 18-34-year-olds, so it should stay mostly intact. The weak link is The War at Home, though American Dad could perform better with its Family Guy lead-in. King of the Hill keeps getting last-minute reprieves, stretching out its run past when it was supposed to go off the air. If CBS cancels How I Met Your Mother, Fox should strongly consider plugging it in to this lineup between Simpsons and Family Guy.

Monday: Vanished was a flop, but Prison Break is doing well for itself. 24 is slowing down, as mentioned, and it remains to be seen if Drive can replicate the success of the similarly ludicrous Prison Break. Drive, which takes the whole serialized genre less seriously than just about any other serial, may be the antidote audiences were looking for to the self-serious genre, or it may be summarily rejected.

Tuesday: Idol, paired with House, takes this night off into a new stratosphere. House on its own does well enough, but it couldn't boost Standoff like it did Bones the year before. When Idol's on, it's maybe one of the best-programmed nights on television, though it seems as though that happened almost by accident (who knew that the perfect companion for a talent show was a medical procedural?).

Wednesday: Idol's results show has never launched a hit like its performance show does, so the results show is expanding to an hour later this month. We wouldn't be surprised if it stayed that way next season. Bones has quietly turned into a consistent performer, while Justice and Til Death have both disappointed on the night.

Thursday: Fifth-Grader has made a world of difference on this night, where The O.C. slowly dwindled down to nothing and Til Death and Happy Hour both failed to compete against NBC's comedies. Comedy repeats are currently occupying the 9 p.m. hour, and something will have to happen here relatively soon.

Friday: Nothing has worked here for Fox since the network moved The X-Files off the night to Sunday, where it became a big hit. This season, the network has tried reality shows (Nanny 911 and Trading Spouses) and the David E. Kelley drama The Wedding Bells. None of these have worked.

Saturday: America's Most Wanted and Cops have been holding down the fort here for decades. This probably won't change any time soon.

So let's make some pre- and post-Idol predictions, shall we? Check out the Fox pilots here. (And, as you look, notice how many are comedy pilots. Fox, perhaps more than any other network, thinks America just wants to laugh again.)


7 p.m. -- football overrun/comedy reruns
8 p.m. -- The Simpsons
8:30 p.m. -- Animals (new series)
9 p.m. -- Family Guy
9:30 p.m. -- American Dad

7 p.m. -- comedy repeat
7:30 p.m. -- King of the Hill (new time)
8 p.m. -- The Simpsons
8:30 p.m. -- Animals
9 p.m. -- Family Guy
9:30 p.m. -- American Dad

While I don't have it on the schedule, I don't think a return for The Winner would be entirely surprising, as it did well enough with 18-34-year-old males. The rest of the schedule is pretty much the same, adding an Adam Sandler-produced animated show about talking animals to the schedule. Should Fox not go with that, it has other animated options or The Hot Years, which they could add should they just want to chase the audience of oglers.


8 p.m. -- Prison Break
9 p.m. -- The Sarah Conner Chronicles (new series)

8 p.m. -- Prison Break/Sarah Conner
9 p.m. -- 24

It would be a risky move to put the Terminator-inspired series up against the genre-happy Heroes, but Prison Break is the show on the Fox schedule that most naturally flows into Sarah Conner (said to have quite a good script). 24 returns at midseason for its seventh year, and there's no reason it would leave its time slot, though there are rumors it might.


8 p.m. -- Canterbury's Law (new series)
9 p.m. -- House

8 p.m. -- American Idol
9 p.m. -- House

We're not buying the House rumors. If it moves, it'll be a surprise to us. When it comes to these sorts of schedule shifts, Fox tends to make more noise than it actually follows through with. In the fall, Canterbury's Law, about a cranky lawyer, may blend well with House, about a cranky doctor. And Idol returns in the winter.


8 p.m. -- Action News (new series)
8:30 p.m. -- The Return of Jezebel James (new series)
9 p.m. -- Til Death (new time)
9:30 p.m. -- The Beast (new series)

8 p.m. -- Action News
8:30 p.m. -- The Return of Jezebel James
9 p.m. -- American Idol (results)

There are persistent rumors that Fox wants to break out another night of comedy somewhere, and Wednesday seems to be the place to do it. With the heavily hyped Action News and Jezebel James, they just might pull it off too. If they're encouraged by the fall numbers, Idol could go back to a half hour at midseason. The proposed Wednesday lineup would also be the only multi-camera exclusive bloc on television (CBS' Mondays has the actually-often-single-camera How I Met Your Mother). Will this happen? Probably not. But Fox seems comedy happy, and this would be the place to do it.


8 p.m. -- Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?
9 p.m. -- K-Ville (new series)

Fifth-Grader has performed admirably for the network, while K-Ville, about cops in post-Katrina New Orleans, could get some buzz for the network. Still, anything put in that slot will have a tough time.


8 p.m. -- Bones (new night)
9 p.m. -- Them (new series)

Fox threatened to move Bones there at midseason this year, and they've experimented with the show in repeats in this very timeslot. If it fails, it can always move back to one of the safer days in the middle of the week, replaced by Nanny 911 or Trading Spouses. Them is serious science fiction, which has often done well on this night, so it might be worth a shot.


8 p.m. -- America's Most Wanted
9 p.m. -- Cops
9:30 p.m. -- Cops

Like this will change.

At midseason, it's anybody's guess as to what the network will pick up. The Apostles seems like it might be a safe bet, as do the Untitled Victor Fresco Project and The Minister of Divine. Fox's development slate seems to be no longer trying to be CBS-lite, and the fact that the network has done some crazy things in the past means that it very well could do so again. (As for personal choices, I'm hoping Fox picks up the truly bizarre-sounding Me and Lee.)

American Idol gives Fox the security to try things. While they probably won't be too daring, their window for creating enough new hits to help the network out when Idol inevitably declines is shrinking. This year would be as good as any.

Tomorrow: The Super TV Preview concludes with NBC renewing a bunch of marginally rated stuff and making us happy in the course of doing so.


Jon said...

I think they should put the Simpsons Family Smiletime Variety Hour on Thursdays after Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader.

However, I should note that while 24 is down from last year, like AI it's still ahead of all of its previous seasons. That could change when Heroes returns with Dancing still airing in its first half, but at the moment it's safe. And if it gets too expensive they can always kill off everyone except Kiefer and Chloe!

Otherwise, lookin' good.

Benaiah said...

NBC airs more of my favorite shows than any other network, yet it has the worst ratings. They are much much better with comedies than anyone else right now. ABC's foray into single camera comedy (the two lead ins to Lost) shows that single camera can be just as unfunny as all the four camera stuff on CBS. Meanwhile, NBC releases Andy Barker almost as a throwaway and its hilarious.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Jon, you're right to point that out about 24, and I should have mentioned as such. Still, like Idol, it's at a point where it doesn't seem likely to go back up next season, but rather continue to go down, especially with Heroes doing so well. There's been talk about it moving to Thursdays with House (and both doing so at midseason), but that seems like it would be a disastrous idea for 24. It's simply too old to move to a competitive slot.

Benaiah -- I like quite a few shows on NBC, too, and it's promising that it looks like they'll all be back next year (and in the case of three, they've already been given new seasons). But I did rather like The Knights of Prosperity for what it was, and I feel like it could have been quite a good show if they had been able to keep Mick Jagger involved somehow.

Moses McCluer said...

Robert Smigel is the creator of Animals? I've been dying for him to break through with a hit. TV Funhouse was ahead of its time, even for Comedy Central.