“It is business as usual,” said Dana Walden, co-chairman and CEO of the Fox Television Group at its executive session on opening day of the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in response to Disney’s plan to acquire 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. Disney does not expect to close the deal for another 12 to 18 months.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say there wasn’t anxiety that week the deal was announced,” added Gary Newman, Walden’s counterpart “All of us talked with many of our producers about it and I think that we assured them that this is going to be business as usual.”
In addition to the Fox Network, also potentially impacted by the pending acquisition by Disney are Fox’s TV studio, FX, Fox News, Fox Sports, National Geographic, and Fox’s 30 percent stake in Hulu.
“I think the future bodes extremely well for the creators who are working for 20th, whether these shows are at Fox or otherwise,” said Newman. “We think the studio is going to remain very robust and the future will be bright for our creative partners.”
After the 12-to-18-month period, however, Newman admitted there is still much uncertainty.
“The truth is we really don’t know,” he said. “But I will tell you that we remain super committed to the network and studio.”
FX CEO John Landgraf will be at the Winter Press Tour on Friday (with National Geographic and Hulu slated for Saturday, Jan. 13 and Sunday, Jan. 14, respectively) to address any other additional concerns with members of the press. An estimated 200 television journalists and critics gather in January and in the summer for the bi-annual gathering. In January, which is mid-TV-season, network execs often offer a better gauge on how each individual outlet is faring.
Potentially marred by this uncertainty, year-to-year audience erosion for Fox does not bode well. Based on the first 14 weeks of this current TV season (through Dec. 31, 2017), the network has slipped 9 percent in total viewers (5.8 million; ranked fourth among the four broadcast networks) and 15 percent among the key primetime demographic of adults 18-49 (1.7 rating/7 share; tied for second with CBS), according to Nielsen.
And, for the second consecutive year, Fox does not have American Idol to fall back on (which begins on ABC on March 11). But there is one immediate positive at present: procedural scripted drama 9-1-1 opened with 6.8 million viewers and a 1.8 rating on Wednesday, based on Nielsen’s live+same day data. That performance gave Fox the win for the night, building from the season premiere of The X-Files by 31 percent in total viewers and 29 percent in the demo.
Then there is what the network is hoping will be the next long-term singing competition: The Four: Battle for Stardom, featuring artists Sean “Diddy” Combs, DJ Khaled, Meghan Trainor and record label executive Charlie Walk. That premieres Thursday evening.
Jockeying for a position in this increasingly fragmented landscape, Fox’s biggest challenge, perhaps, is a deteriorating roster of programs (including sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, anything with Gordon Ramsay, sophomore drama The Exorcist, and its veteran Sunday night animation block). And then there is critically acclaimed, but still minimally sampled comedy The Mick.
But Fox is hoping to spur interest in Family Guy by airing the first-ever limited commercial interruption episode on Sunday, March 11 at 9 p.m.. The 300th episode of the animated mainstay airs this Sunday. Promising Marvel-themed Monday night drama The Gifted has been renewed for season two. The current first-season finale, an expanded two-hour edition, will air on Monday, Jan. 15. And the announced Tuesday, April 10 return date for the seventh – and final – season of New Girl should give fans of the long-running comedy a satisfying conclusion.
While the jury is still out on another season of The X-Files, the network remains in early development for a planned new version of Prison Break, which would feature an entirely new cast.
[Images courtesy: Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup]